14,000 years in two hours. The Man From Earth.

The Man from Earth attempts to answer the burning question of whether that tall dark drink of water teaching at your local university is actually a 140-century-old caveman. Spoiler alert. He isn’t. Or maybe he is.

What a strange little film this is. Written by Jerome Bixby, allegedly completed on his deathbed and directed by Richard Schenkmann in 2007, it’s extremely low-budget – which shows. It has essentially one set – the house which John Oldman

oh yes we spared no expense on wordplay, and no, the fact that its referenced in the movie does not make it more clever

is leaving behind. Oldman invites a few of his colleagues around for a quick goodbye, and then, as a kind of social experiment/desire to out himself

no time like the present, eh Highlander

as a kind of immortal. What follows is essentially a long fairly philosophical

if not entirely academic

discussion on the possibility of immortality. The cast is a charmingly diverse mixture, conveniently each representing one of the more obvious scientific fields which have something to say about human immortality. After John drops the bomb on them

as it were

they settle in for a long, in-depth, and sometimes heated debate about John’s story and the hypotheticals surrounding it.

I love this movie, to be honest. It’s a bit of a mess in parts, the lighting is atrocious, some of the performances are pretty sub-par, and some parts of John’s story are, well kind of unnecessary

I don’t think he needed to go everywhere and talk to everyone, I mean for fuck’s sake I know it needs to refer to Jesus and Buddha so your average schmuck will get it but come on

but it’s so touching in its own peculiar way. While the presentation is of university graduates is pretty Hollywoodised

that is 100 percent a word, look it up

and the characters are occasionally kind of one-note

looking at you, second act Edith

they generate a feeling which is almost stage-like. You feel like you are sitting in the same room, and you feel the micro-feelings along with the characters. In some ways, John is the least interesting character. There’s that old writing adage, that the supporting characters represent the conflicting aspects of the protagonist, and while this is certainly one way to read this film, I’d argue that the aspects outshine the lead. John is really only the plot hook, gently pulling everyone else along.

The relative simplicity of the characters should not be a deterrent, however. They need to be simple for us to follow the debate, and for the most part, this device works admirably.

One of the definite highlights is the writing. The Man From Earth is a brilliant example of how a movie can in fact be made by really, really good dialogue, which can make up for some of its other more egregious flaws. Bixby did not attempt to write naturalistically, and I appreciate that, because naturalistic style is…problematic, at best, even in genres that are not science fiction

Yes this is science fiction. PM me if you want your ear talked off on the subject

The Man From Earth dialogue sounds scripted, and that is perfectly acceptable. The delivery is mostly good enough to pull it off. I am okay with dialogue sounding artificial, because movies are in fact artificial constructs, and we get lines like this:

“Time…Oh. You can’t see it, hear it, weigh it, you can’t isolate it in a laboratory. It’s our subjective sense of becoming – becoming what we are – instead of what we were a nanosecond ago – becoming what we will be in another nanosecond ago. The Hopi see time as a landscape, existing before and behind us. We move through it slice by slice.”

I would say that’s worth it.

There isn’t much more to say about the movie itself. It feels like a weird little thought experiment on the philosophical and spiritual meaning of immortality. Every character except Oldman has their faith tested in one way or another, and there is little in the way of action or change. The final revelation is…well, it’s in keeping with the rest of the film. You might find it confusing, or odd, or unfulfilling, but I will wager it will keep you thinking for a while after you finish. In these days of overblown explosion-laden “science fiction” films

Fuck you in particular Passengers

Something from the recent past which is slow, contemplative and introspective might just be the thing for a small reset. Recommended.