The Man from Earth is a 2007 “drama science fiction” film written by Jerome Bixby and directed by Richard Schenkman.
Yes, you did just read that right. Bixby, the author of countless sci-fi stories, and the creator of a number of classic Star Trek and Twilight Zone episodes, also wrote this movie, actually completing it on his deathbed.
Now enough about that, let’s get to the review.
I think the first thing I can say about the plot is that nothing really happens.
That’s not an exaggeration. The greater part of the running time, just shy of an hour and a half, is spent in a single room with the same group of people and all they do is talk. There is no action, no explosions, and no scary monsters. All the film involves is a man leaving town and having one last chat with a few colleagues and friends.
Sounds like one hell of a blockbuster, right? If someone had described The Man from Earth to me like that then I would probably have decided against watching it.
How about if I tell you that the man, Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) claims to be roughly 14,000 years old? Are we a bit more intrigued now? That’s the only thing that pulled me in, too.
What the film essentially boils down to is John explaining his incredible life to his disbelieving colleagues, all academics, and weathering the storm of scorn and incredulity that you’d expect from such outrageous claims.
Surely then, the film makes up for lack of action by providing an interesting array of flashbacks to John’s history, creating a visual companion to his stories?
Nope, I did say that it mostly takes place in just one room (John’s living room) after all, and I meant every word of it. The viewer takes the role of one of John’s friends and colleagues, sat there listening to his story along with the rest of the cast.
Have I lost you already? Well if you’re still around then let me explain.
The allure of this film has nothing to do with flashy visuals and the like, but the debate. Most of the running time is spent on dialogue and in my humble opinion hardly a second is wasted. Banter and bickering establish the relationships of the characters, the occasional snippet of information gives you enough of an impression with which to understand them as they put forth their arguments, and John’s accounts of his past keep you intrigued and interested.
All of John’s friends try to pull his stories apart in relation to their different fields (biology, art history, anthropology, regular history, psychiatry, and archaeology) and at every turn he seems to find a way to counter whatever they have to say in an intelligent and convincing manner, regardless of how fantastical they seem; and trust me some of them do get fairly unbelievable.
You get drawn into this conversation as one of them, initially sceptical and disbelieving, possibly just humouring him, but as the evening draws on then you perhaps become slightly more convinced that this impossible man is just who he says he is. The film flows well through the currents and eddies of the conversation and keeps you hooked on the mystery that is John Oldman.
If you feel bad for having never heard of the film, despite its (relatively) recent release date, then don’t worry because Metacritic hasn’t either, though that never stopped it from earning an incredible rating of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, or winning most of the awards it was nominated for.
Possibly the biggest drawback (if the only) is the ending, which feels rather abrupt and heavy handed compared to the slow, steady, and logical pace that the rest of the movie employs, but though I could have quite happily kept watching for another 87 minutes it had to end somewhere I suppose.
So in summary, this is not a movie for people with short attention spans only drawn to explosions and car chases, but for those with a philosophical bent that enjoy a truly intellectual debate. It keeps you hooked, it keeps you interested, and keeps you wondering even as the credits role if John Oldman is really 14,000 years old.