Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Man from Earth

Imagine if a man from the Stone Age was inexplicably gifted with immunity from aging, and just kept on living until the present. That's the premise of the The Man from Earth, which I watched last night on my laptop (with any feelings of guilt evaporated by the movie's producer, who has thanked people who've raised its profile by distributing it over the internet).

The movie tells the story of a man who was born 14,000 years ago and survives until the present day, currently living as a professor under the name John Oldman (note the clever pun!). He moves from place to place assuming various identities every 10 years or so, or whenever people start to notice that his appearance hasn't aged a day. When his colleagues throw an unexpected farewell party and pressure him to give an explanation for his sudden departure, he gives in and takes the risk of revealing his identity to the stunned group.

A very clever premise! In fact, half of the appeal is in the concept, the idea of someone who's lived for thousands of years, an idea which they take and explore for 90 minutes. The entire movie takes place in a small house, and plays itself out through intelligent conversation among the group. Yes, they take that mind-blowing premise and milk it into a long conversation.

Perhaps this would have been a very different movie if it had the proper budget of a major studio motion picture. But would it be better? Take, for instance, The Island, which took an awesome idea and buried it deep under thick layers of action and special effects. No, this movie isn't the slightest bit interested in the glitz and adrenaline. It just wants to take its idea and get you thinking about the possibilities. What if this guy was a disciple of Buddha? What if he was friends with Van Gogh? What if-- and this is the real bombshell-- what if he was Jesus? All this talk doesn't lead to anything significant, but it's fascinating with the way it tugs at the imagination in all sorts of directions.

The idea of taking an impossible concept and elucidating it to tickle the mind reminds me of The World Without Us, a "speculative fiction" book by Alan Weisman, exploring what would happen to the environment if the human race suddenly disappeared-- how houses would deteriorate, cities would crumble, and lifeforms would evolve on an Earth without people. Well, no I haven't actually read this book, but it's a very cool concept. Just think of it, and the conversation it could make.

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