The Man from Earth is still bad

Many years ago (am I getting old?), I watched the 2007 film The Man from Earth after effusive recommendation by denizens of some online forum. The praise was indeed high. “Only movie I ever rewatched right after watching it for the first time”, said one person. My opinion was somewhat different, however. Be it too much expectation, or just not the right mood, I did not enjoy the movie: it felt like a weak attempt at an actually interesting premise, made all the more frustrating by a terrible ending.

Nevertheless, over the years (I am really getting old, am I not) I kept running into its praises. More times than I would expect for a relatively unknown movie. Last of which, out of all things a video about vampires, made me question if I should give this movie a fair shot again. Perhaps a new viewing could undo my first bad impression?

As it turns out, no. The main difference this time was that, as the pain points resurfaced, I recalled having already groaned once because of them. Before going into it, a quick recap of the plot is in line. Spoilers ahead. The professor and main character John Oldman is about to skip town when his colleagues interrupt him with a goodbye party at home (the movie looks dated even for its small budget, though that is hardly an issue since it was entirely shot in this one location). Upon being pressed about his leave, John reveals that he is way older than appearances – actually a 14000 old man from the Paleolithic era. Whenever talks about him seemingly never aging bubble, he moves to a different place and assumes a new identity. On a whim, this time he decides to part with his friends as his true self.

This is the first thing that struck me as odd, for someone who has kept their secret for so long, John certainly is hellbent on letting his friends know the truth this time, even to the point of, as we will see later, behaving like a complete psychopath. In any case, and for our convenience too, his audience is perfect for the tell-all. A creepy biologist, a devout christian, an anthropologist, an archeologist (who is dating the student in tow?), John’s love interest and a late arriving psychiatrist take turns asking questions, getting angry and/or playing along with the game to try and figure out madness from fiction. In the process, none of them behave quite human, be it poor script or dialogue. For instance, the love confession shoehorned mid film. The archeologist whose sole job in the movie is to blabber long winded, deep sounding lines. The christian lady who seems to be in the script just so there is always a reaction to John’s remarks about faith. Actually, this is the one thing that makes all other characters forget their doubts and want to learn more – the movie has a lot to say on the subject of religion. Unfortunately, literal centuries of study were still not enough for John to say anything more insightful than someone who hasn’t read much philosophy. But, of course, the religion bone picking leads to the reveal that John had been Christ.

This is another point that the movie asks a tad much from suspension of disbelief. To say the least, John was quite active during the course of history. He lived under Hammurabi’s Babylon. He studied alongside Buddha. Although it was common knowledge at the time that the Earth was round, John was still afraid of Columbus ship taking him off the edges. Later on, he was gifted a painting by Van Gogh. And yet, despite being to everywhere on the planet, he never had an accident, never was seriously hurt by anyone else, stuck or otherwise rendered unfree (besides some jail time in Belgium). The text even dismiss some of those queries, usually in the form of a character talking over the other, e.g., when asked about the crucifixion marks, John says he doesn’t scar, the biologist tries to say that’s impossible but the psychiatrist shuts him up.

Near the conclusion, these lucky stories build up to arguably the most bizarre scene in the movie. After the Jesus upset, the psychiatrist asks John to drop the act, which he does by telling them it was all a prank. Half of the characters seem to actually believe him in some capacity. They all leave expect for John and his will-be romantic partner who are outside discussing funny names he has made up along the eons. Right on time, the psychiatrist emerges out of the house (was he chilling on the couch? we will never know) to overhear his long gone father’s name. Mind you, all of these were established during the movie: the psychiatrist has a heart disease; he just lost his wife to cancer; he has always missed a father figure (that also being one of the hypothesis he raises about John’s behavior). But then, John insists on telling him details that only close family could possibly know – until the guy literally dies of a heart attack. Why? Why did he have to tell the psychiatrist all of this? Why not just deny it again, or change the subject? My best guess is that the movie needed to confirm that, in fact, John was legit, and the writers could not think of a better way to do it. Another theory is that they wrote in the script the line “You never saw a grown child die” and then sunken cost was responsible for shooting the scene. After getting the police to take over the body, John looks sad for a few seconds and drives away with his love interest to an unspecified destination. Perhaps to the sequel, which manages to be worse than the first movie.

With that, I am back to the conclusion from all those years ago: an interesting idea executed poorly. But who knows? Maybe when there is no doubt I am an old man, say, 14000 years old, I will appreciate The Man from Earth more.