Saturday, 4 April 2015

Film: The Man From Earth (2007)

The Man From Earth is a 2007 film with a screenplay by Jerome Bixby. That name seemed familiar to me so I looked it up and was reminded that Bixby was a prolific SF short-story writer in the 1950s and 1960s, probably best known for the chilling "It's a Good Life", a story I recall very well despite having read it several decades ago. Bixby also wrote screenplays, working on scripts for Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and four movies; The Man from Earth was his last work.

The plot is not entirely original but is unusual enough to be intriguing: a professor rather unwillingly hosts an impromptu farewell do for his academic friends, having decided to leave at short notice. They are baffled and hurt by his sudden decision, and pester him for an explanation. He eventually reveals that he always moves on every ten years to conceal the fact that he never ages; he was actually born 14,000 years ago. His friends are naturally incredulous and an intense debate takes place during which he fields their questions and challenges, with many revelations, twists and turns and more than a little emotion displayed.

The production could hardly be simpler as almost the entire film takes place in one room and consists only of half-a-dozen people talking to each other for an hour and a half; it was made on a budget of $200,000. It has more the feel of a good stage play than a movie (I was not surprised to discover that it was subsequently turned into a successful play). Despite this, it is one of the most absorbing and gripping films I have seen in a long time. The dialogue is very intelligent and thought-provoking, the shifting relationships between the characters fascinating; this is unquestionably a film for adults (very much a rarity in the SFF field). I discovered that it won a whole bunch of awards, mostly for its screenplay, and I am not at all surprised. It was released straight to DVD which I suppose is understandable considering the complete lack of any of the action, CGI, chases, fights or explosions that cinema audiences seem to require these days, but it really should not be missed.

The plot of the film did make me think: just how easy would it be these days for anyone to keep reinventing themselves every decade? I suppose it would depend on the circumstances: if you are happy with casual, cash-in-hand jobs then you could survive unnoticed for a long time, especially in the heart of a major city where hardly anyone knows their neighbours and you probably wouldn't even need to move around very much. But if you want a professional job it gets much more difficult; a professor would come from an existing academic post, would be known by others in his field of study, would be expected to have published academic papers and so on. And that's before we get into the whole panoply of personal data held by governments and other authorities. If you have money and know the right people, then you can buy forged ID and other documents, but these will only stand up to a certain level of scrutiny; it takes the resources of a government to create bomb-proof in-depth false identities. Curiously, this minor flaw in the film's plot niggled me rather more than the impossibility of anyone living for 14,000 years!


Fred said...

I have only ten DVDs in my private collection. This is one of them. It is one of the great SF films as far as I'm concerned.

The difficulty of creating a new identity today of course is a real problem, but that was a minor issue for me as the interplay among the people was for me the most important part of the film: how does one react to such a claim by a trusted, liked, and respected colleague?

Anthony G Williams said...

Oh, I agree - it's a great film and I was amazed that I'd never heard of it. It deserves to be much better known.

Unfortunately I have the kind of mind that worries about practical details... ;-)

Fred said...

I had found it while browsing Netflix. I had no expectations about it either, except that it was written by Bixby, whom I had heard of.

I was so taken by it, that I watched it again and then posted about it on my blog. Shortly afterwards, I purchased the DVD and also found the script for it.