The Man From Earth is a science fiction with very little science fiction in it. It is a film which poses many questions, but offers few answers. It is a drama without anything too dramatic. It seems to frustrate many people for various reasons- some say it is boring and slow, some say that the acting is poor, some see it as anti-religion, particularly anti-Christian. Yes, it is low budget and no aliens tear into anyone’s flesh, the majority of the film consisting of a group of scholars discussing beliefs and theroies in an empty log cabin. Perhaps the cover is misleading, and i should warn anyone expecting an exciting sci-fi film that this is not it. What it is though is an intelligent, entertaining, and thought provoking story about life written by a legend on his death bed.
Jerome Bixby was mostly famous for his small output as a science fiction writer, creating some of the most long lasting and fondly remembered episodes and images from series such as The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. It was his wish that this, his final work be a small affair without fanfare or millions of pounds involved. True, a bigger director with a bigger budget could easily turn this story into a different beast altogether, something along the lines of Interview With A Vampire, and that could well happen in the future. His son though sought to follow his father’s wishes, and thereofore got together with the one director who understood his father’s intentions, John Billingsley. Together they assembled a cast of familiar faces and reliable actors, and shot the film in an understated fashion.
The story centres on the leaving party of John Oldman, a lecturer who has decided that it is time for him to move on. He invites his friends to his home for one last night together, friends who are sad and bemused that he has decided to leave. Certain of them have grown to love him. After questioning his reasons for leaving, he decides to tell them the truth- that he is 14,000 years old and that every decade or so once people notice he hasn’t aged, he moves on. Naturally they think it is ridiculous, each being an expert in a chosen field from biology to ancient history, but they decide to play along. It soon becomes apparent that although none of them can prove he is lying, they cannot prove he is not lying. Their deepest fears and beliefs and confronted and they question whether the man they knew is crazy or playing a nasty game. John has an answer for every question, and claims to have met certain famous people throughout history. This leads to one revelation which causes some great upset.
For viewers who don’t mind watching a film which is more like a play, one which likes to talk instead of show, and don’t mind their own views potentially being challenged, there is a lot to take from this film. The idea itself is very interesting, and the questions come naturally- if we were in the same position, what would we have seen and learned? What would we think of the human race? What would your thoughts on God, faith, and death be? Some see the film as anti-Christian but these thoughts are groundless. Yes it poses the idea that much of what Christianity is based on is a mistake after a series of coincidences, but it’s most important message is that ideas should be challenged, but that we should all have faith. The performances from Katt, Todd, and Smith are strong, the other cast members vary- some annoying, some fine. There is some nice, minimal music, and the film is not afriad to move at it’s own pace. There are two major ‘shocks’ in the film, neither of which are particularly shocking, but both add to the narrative, the interest, and our feelings towards a character who must have seen and done more than any of us every will, but who has also watched everyone he has ever met, known, hated, and loved die. It is unfortunate that not many people will see this film, but if there is a bigger version in the future, perhaps those who see it will be drawn back to this, which will probably remain the best version.
The DVD has two commentaries from the cast and writers which offer insight into the film’s ideas and creation, and their own views on the story and character. There are also four short featurettes about the making of the film.
As always, feel free to leave your comments on the movie and the review- what did you make of the religious and moral revelations the film unveils?