The Man from Earth

This is probably my favorite scifi movie, despite it having no action and taking place mostly in one room. Or maybe because of it.

The story follows a group of college professors saying goodbye to a colleague who’s leaving. This colleague poses a situation which may or may not be real. As he spins his story, the others in the room question it and take it apart, until the veracity of his claim becomes a point of serious contention. They continue taking the story apart, but they start taking each other apart, too.

As for what this claim is? That a man could never die. That the leaving colleague, specifically, doesn’t die.

This movie relies on good storytelling instead of gimmicks, and it works. I had no idea dialogue and character interaction alone could float a story like this. But the discussion was just so engaging, I was completely caught up in it. The characters played off each other well, and I could see the contrast between what they wanted to believe.

Something about the passion with which the characters took to the story, the way it became important to them, the ideas they were throwing around–I imagine this is the kind of engagement oral storytellers might depend on to keep their audiences interested.

My only criticism is the ending, but it’s a very personal criticism. I’d rather they left the question open. I wanted to make up my own mind, one way or the other, about whether the claim was true or false. But they do answer it conclusively by the end, so that’s that. Honestly, I don’t know why I wanted this left open so badly. Somehow, it just felt right. Still, it’s a minor criticism, and plenty of other people would take that as a plus.

It’s been a while since I last saw it, and I could probably stand to rewatch it, see what I think about their theories now that I have more knowledge myself. Maybe I’ll find something I disagree with. Either way, it’s an engaging story built around a single “what if?” question.

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2 Responses to The Man from Earth

  1. Psycho Gecko says:

    Sounds interesting. I’ll have to look it up. Some of the most intense drama can be a battle between human perception and minds, but not everyone goes that route. For one thing, having a clear answer, as the ending usually provides, can drain a lot of the tension out of the earlier stuff. Then again, may help you focus on all the subtleties and skills shown to lead up to that answer. Either way, probably not going to appeal to most people’s replay value.

    At first the premise reminded me of this one short film either by Fewdio or Daywalt Horror. There’s one they have with just two men talking, one claiming to be incapable of dying. It is rather definite at the end about the strength of the guy’s claim.

    Now the obligatory Psycho Gecko Suggestion. A movie I’ve seen that is pretty strong but with no action is Conspiracy. Just the story of high ranking Nazis all meeting to discuss the Jewish Question. Kenneth Brannagh, Stanley Tucci, and Colin Firth are the big names of that movie. That’s one that came out when everyone had the answer already and instead we got a morbid look into the reasoning and personalities that lead up it.

    • Marie Erving says:

      Well, I get that a lot of people like their loose ends tied up by the end of a movie. I’m personally not always as adamant about that, depending. Here, I think it would have been a nice parallel to the fictional world they establish if the members of the audience end up believing what they want to believe.

      My guess is that this kind of ‘all story, no gimmicks’ media is more likely to pop up in low budget stuff, because they have to limit their gimmicks. I’d like to see it successfully pulled off more often than I have.

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