Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Man From Earth

The verdict: Absorbing, small-scale, dialogue-driven yarn which plays with the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief. The movie asks a simple question: do you believe this man?

The rating: 7/10

The Man From Earth is undoubtedly clever, and a story I really enjoyed, but it is such an unusual movie that I would hesitate to unreservedly recommend it. Let me explain: you see, I've seen some movies in my time that I thought were clever, and a fair few that I thought were pretty dumb as well. In the main, precedent shows that the dumb ones have a bigger audience, and while I'm not going to moan about this, it does make me hesitant to tell you to see this movie without qualifying my recommendation. (I mean, what do I know, you might be paying to see 'Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem' this weekend.)

First qualifier, this movie is set almost entirely in the central character's living room, with the excepton of a small number of outdoor scenes. Second, it's a science fiction story, but there are no action scenes, CGI effects, or aliens to speak of. Now, I would think of this as the better type of science-fiction, less reliant on smoke and mirrors than on the audience's capacity to understand the story... then again, only about twenty-seven people saw 'Primer', so again, what do I know!? Final qualifier - and this is the deal-breaker really - 'The Man From Earth' is based on your willingness to keep an open mind in the face of a claim that appears to be completely impossible, and run with it, just for the craic.

The movie starts with Dr. John Oldman's colleagues intercepting him at his home as he attempts to quietly pack up his possessions and move away. They quiz him as to the reason for his sudden departure after ten years teaching at the local college, and to their dismay, he reveals that he must move every ten years, for fear that his secret is discovered. After much pressing, he tells them that he has been alive since cro-magnon times and does not age, which effectively puts him at 14,000 years old. His university colleagues are both hostile and curious in the face of his story, but as they quiz him on the details of his past, it becomes clear that his words can neither be proved nor disproved. The thing is, the story-teller's responses to their questions are compelling and flawless, so the audience runs with what they see as an interesting tall tale for a bit of fun. However, as the discourse continues, the question is raised, is it possible that Oldman (ah... old.. man... ahem - Ed) could actually be telling the truth?

If the idea of a story like this makes you cringe in embarassment, then fair enough, but I was willing to run with it, and the experience was rewarding. The cast are likeable, and Oldman's story is unbelievable, compelling and challenging in equal measure. The film could easily be a play, and reminded me in its scope of something like 'Twelve Angry Men' (although the comparison to one of the best movies of all time is probably a little unfair.) David Lee Smith is very good in the lead as the compelling story-teller, and although his audience are generally wooden enough, they are generally likeable, and their academic contributions bolster Oldman's story, given that the audience members are, respectively, an anthropologist, an historian, a religious historian, and a psychologist.

If you've read Richard Dawkins 'God Delusion' book, are a fan of science fiction, or occasionally take a chance on movies without CGI, then I'd recommend this film as a diverting, off-beat little bit of fun. Otherwise, for risk of you beating me up for my lunch money, I should probably recommend you steer clear. All in all, PCMR gives a qualified recommendation for 'The Man from Earth', a movie I thoroughly enjoyed.

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