BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A man reveals to his educated colleagues that he is an immortal born 14,000 years ago.
PROS: A thorough deconstruction of immortality; a few welcome plot twists.
CONS: Some non-stationary camera work would have been welcome, as would a few extra lights; somewhat slow-moving at times.
BOTTOM LINE: A SciFi film worth watching.
The Man from Earth is based on a screenplay from science fiction writer Jerome Bixby. Bixby is perhaps best known for his classic 1953 story “It’s a GOOD life” which was adapted for the television series The Twilight Zone and featured a young Billy Mumy wishing people into the cornfield. (The story resurfaced years later in the 1983 Twilight Zone film and also spawned a sequel, “It’s Still a Good Life,” in the 2002-2003 incarnation of The Twilight Zone and again starred Mumy.) The screenplay for The Man from Earth was Bixby’s last work.
At its most basic level, the story is about a man (John, played by David Lee Smith) who, upon preparing to travel, confesses to his college professor friends that he is an immortal who was born 14,000 years ago in the Paleolithic era of Earth’s history. They disbelieve him, of course, assuming he is researching a science fiction story idea. But they continue to question him, with attempts to disprove his story slowly giving way to seeking information about how this could possibly be.
What results is a dialogue-/idea-driven story that explores what it would mean to be immortal. Would you keep any possessions? Would you be incredibly intelligent? Would you have made a difference? What would your personal beliefs be regarding death and religion? These issues are explored at length by John’s friends who are fellow college professors: there’s Dan (Tony Todd) the anthropologist; socially-inept Harry the biologist; Edith, a devout Christian; Sandy, John’s colleague and love interest; and archaeologist Art (William Katt) who, fearing for John’s sanity, calls in friend psychologist Dr. Gruber. Using their diverse backgrounds to cover a wide range of knowledge and perspectives, John’s friends extract details about his long-lived past, probing the veracity of his story. The problem, though, is that none of it is provable (or dis-provable), especially since John never stays in one place long enough for people to see for themselves that he doesn’t age. Talk eventually turns to religion and culminates with a couple of plot twists and various emotional exchanges.
The leading strength of The Man from Earth is easily Bixby’s story, which provides fodder for some thought-provoking discussion. And discussion (and all the good that comes from it) is really all that the movie offers. There’s not much action, so those looking for eye candy SciFi should look elsewhere. However, the acting is good and the script provides an engrossing, if slow-moving, story. Watching The Man from Earth really feels like you’re reading a story instead of watching a film – which is to say that the pleasure is derived from thinking about the premise, not the visuals. In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether John is telling the truth, lying or crazy – the exploration of the experience of immortality is what this film is about – and ultimately that makes The Man from Earth is a film worth watching.