The Man from Earth

man_from_earthDirector: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, John Billingsley, Tony Todd, Ellen Crawford, Annika Peterson, William Katt, Alexis Thorpe, Richard Riehle. USA, 2007. Budget: $200,000. IMDB: 8.0. My rating 4/4. Intellectual imaginative dialogue-based science fiction.

– There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it.
(one of the film main characters)

– I am going home and watch Star Trek for a dose of sanity.
(one of the film main characters)

It’s often said that a good science fiction should in first place activate our imagination and not rely merely on being a visual stimulator. “The Man from Earth” is a minimal dialogue-based intellectual science fiction at its best. But it will provide you with more fantasy, drama, thoughtful remarks about biology, religion and psychology than you could expect from a film shot almost entirely in one house with zero action or special effects for $200,000.

The plot. Professor John Oldman is organizing a goodbye party with his university colleagues. He has a strange habit of moving to a new place every 10 years for a reason he doesn’t want to reveal. But for the first time ever he decides to open himself and tell the truth about his unusual origin, whether it will be accepted by his friends or not. John claims to be 14000 years old. But as their discussion moves on, the things get more and more serious.

Few curious facts about the film. 

A) It’s based on the story written by Jerome Bixby, who developed the main idea from the original 1969 Star Trek episode he wrote. You can find a lot of info here. Bixby, among tons of things he wrote, created one of the best Twilight Zone episodes “It’s a Good Life” and co-wrote ”The Fantastic Voyage”.

B) The producer has publicly thanked torrent users of who have distributed the film without express permission, saying that it has lifted the profile of the film far beyond the financier’s expectations (even if it actually means asking for buying more DVDs, at least somebody admits the truth).

C) Released directly to DVD (after some festival screening and barely few theatres), the movie with years gained an impressive 8.0 on IMDb with 140,000 votes. It’s one of the most high-rated independent movies with a decent amount of votes. I find it surprising, as normally not everybody appreciates a dialogue based intellectual sci-fi.

What I liked. “The Man from Earth” is genuine and heartfelt story thanks to an incredible cast and especially charismatic main role by David Lee Smith. It feel sjust like sitting in front of the fire late in the evening with a bunch of old friends, discussing things to which you dedicated your life.

‘Tell a lie enough times and people will start to believe it”.

Nobody is trying to convince anyone. It’s surely one of the strong points of the film. John, after his 14000 years and hundreds of people he cared about and lost, is calm. It’s actually the reaction of the others that is not always peaceful – somebody feels hurt with his beliefs and feelings, some claim John is crazy and is making a bad joke, while the others feel sympathy.

You can guess the parallel – yes, the movie openly discusses the religion as well (and it seems some part of viewers blamed it as a movie against Christianity, which I find ridiculous). It’s an interesting take on the topic done an open-minded way, given the complexity. John’s story, of course, is compared to the religion itself (”There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it”, as admits one of his colleagues).

What I didn’t like. While some complained that the movie feels monotone due to its minimal setting, I’m pretty sure this can only be said if you can’t stand these kind of stories and need more action. I actually found the movie pretty dynamic and well-crafted. The picture quality wasn’t very good (and in one of the interviews Schenkman admitted himself that it wasn’t filmed in the best way), but that won’t diminish the pleasure anyway. The colours were strange at times (especially skin colour).

Worth watching? Yes! It’s smart, minimal and intellectual but not snobbish or artsy film that will invite you to reflect on many things. The film doesn’t have any kind of action or special effects – it’s a classic imaginative sci-fi at its best.

Watch also: Other great sci-fi movies set in a minimal setting: ”Exam”, ”The Cube”, ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, ”Moon”, ”Coherence”, ”The One I Love”.

7 thoughts on “The Man from Earth

  1. Fun review of a fascinating film that I still recommend to people. It’s been 7 years since I posted mine, and your note about torrents made me tug my collar a bit – I can honestly say I don’t remember how I saw the film, but I don’t think a DVD was involved.

    I think that more generally, the film is a fine look at the process of critical thinking. How does one evaluate an argument that is inherently unfalsifiable? It’s not shocking that religion would come up in such a discussion, and I thought the movie’s treatment of it was quite solid, even if it’s likely to irritate some folks.

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    My one beef: Richard Riehle pulling a gun. Much of the movie felt like shorthand – discussions bordering on allegory that I don’t quite have to believe would happen in such a compact and economical manner with all of the perfect experts sitting around for it. But that setup works (in the manner of theatre) because it feels like the best way to evaluate John’s extraordinary story. But Riehle’s character coincidentally losing his wife the same week that John is moving on (and then becoming offended to the point of [pretend] threatening John’s life) felt like a bit much – descended a bit into melodrama.

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    • Haha. Where are you from? Here in Europe these issues are not so… “collar-tugging”. At least, not everywhere. Yes, in fact, it’s a rare case for a low budget conversational movie to get 140k votes. I cannot name anything similar.

      ******************spoiler*************

      Richard Riehle – honestly, I think his actions were introduced mostly to speed uo the pace and create some suspense, otherwise, the movie might’ve seemed too slow. It did feel a little bit strained though, you’re right. At least, his gun was not really loaded.

      I also read an interview with the director and he said that come characters were cut from the original story and their thoughts/remarks were distributed between the characters we actually saw in the movie. As for the experts happening to be right there… well, it’s another assumption of the movie, because we could also think that after 14,000 years and 10 degrees John finally got in that kind of environment with people he really liked and he decided to see their reaction. It’s just cinema 😉

      I totally agree about critical thinking. It’s a very good point.

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      What are yout other favourite conversational movies? (I think “Carnage” was brilliant. It somehow touches similar stuff as “Lobster” but in a normal, realistic way).

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      • I’m in Seattle. And I’m being a little facetious – piracy is rampant here, just like anywhere else 🙂

        There used to be a pattern whenever a fun European TV series would come out (but not yet be available in America) – I’d hear a recommendation from a friend (or a blog or podcast), and they’d always be really coy about how they’d actually seen it. They’d make reference to “hopping a quick flight to England” or “I saw it through…methods.”

        Of course, the paid streaming services have cottoned onto this, and realized there’s a demand for European TV that they can meet at a low price, so now many international hits are available on Netflix, Hulu, etc., or (in some cases) getting another season/series there. Black Mirror was one such series – two full seasons/series of that show aired before it was ever legally available in the US, and I heard about it from a *lot* of people.

        Anyway, as far as The Man From Earth goes, I’d agree – they did a fine enough job of justifying the setup, and it hardly needed justifying anyway. If this is the group we need for such an interesting conversation to happen, so be it. As far as other “conversation” films go, I can’t think of many other examples. Movies based on plays tend to qualify, I suppose – “Doubt”, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep was quite good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m in Italy. That’s a curious insight! I actually thought things are much worse on that side of the ocean. 🙂 Yes, when offered at reasonable price, the content may attract wide audience. Although I read an interisting article about how Netflix is currently reducing their old movies catalog… (https://filmschoolrejects.com/netflixs-classic-cinema-problem)

        I can say for sure that the DVDs, Blu-Rays etc are incredibly overpriced. So I can actually understand how that prevents people from buying.

        Yes, I’ve seen ”Doubt” when it was out. Still remember it well.

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      • That’s a shame about classic films leaving Netflix – I used to watch quite a few of them that way. I recall putting on “A Man For All Seasons” (1966) while packing to move out of an apartment, and I got very little packing done, because it turned out to be too riveting. But my attention has also shifted toward newer films and TV as it’s become more accessible and rampant.

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  2. Not just European TV, come to think of it – a lot of Japanese and Korean TV as well, and a handful of shows from other places (there was recently a sci-fi show on Netflix from Brazil called “3%” that looked interesting).

    Liked by 1 person

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