July 14, 2013

The Man from Earth

Richard Schenkman, 2007

Professor John Oldman (David Lee Smith) suddenly decides, after 10 years of teaching, that he is going to move to an undisclosed destination. His colleagues are perplexed, and confused. During a going-away party at his cabin, he decides to tell them that he is actually a caveman from the Paleolithic age that never died. They assume he's lying, or trying to consult with them on material for a book he may be writing.

The film, set in the southwest, is fueled by good acting and sharp writing. Substance over style, it doesn't need much more than its provocative dialogue and desert country backdrop to move the story along. As they arrive at the his remote cabin, they immediately start asking questions. You get a sense that he was a very well-liked individual who made a lot of friends on campus. As they open a bottle of Johnny Walker Green, he begins to open up a bit about the reasons for his departure. His colleagues are other professors, well-versed in subjects from Psychology to Anthropology to History to Christian Studies. Instant skeptics, the layers of the onion are peeled and the colleagues begin to try to find cracks in his story. John, a reserved but kind man, continues to recount tales of hunting, looking at the stars thousands of years ago and questioning god, to the rise and fall of the Roman empire. The emotions of the colleagues become unsteady as the story continues. In their eyes, they are hurt that a good friend is leaving for an unknown reason and they are angry that he's playing with their emotions on his way out of town. At times, they assume he has manipulated them by putting them all in the same room hoping to pick their brains. As night falls, the stories continue. Angry and confused, they still cannot get up and walk out. They must hear more. YOU must hear more. You, the audience, basically serves as another body in the room sitting around the fireplace listening along. John's story is engaging and ultimately becomes entrancing as the sun sets and you sit around listening, and gazing at the hypnotic flames of the fire.

Jerome Bixby, who wrote the script, has a background in the sci-fi genre. With Star Trek and The Twilight Zone episodes on his resume, he's clearly someone with a sharp mind that has some interesting ideas. While the film is noticeably low budget, it doesn't call for much more. It's not necessary. This film would also presumably do well on the Broadway stage.

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