Readers Write In #336: Thoughts on revisiting ‘The Man from Earth’

Posted on February 6, 2021

4


(by Aravind R)

Once in a while, there comes a moment when you have no more new movies to watch. BR’s recommendations – all done and dusted. Rotten Tomatoes – nothing above 90% in the genre you’re in the mood to watch. In the race to watch more good movies, you avoid succumbing to the pressure and decide that your happiness is what matters, and not the count of ‘new awesome movies I watched recently’. It was one such moment when I decided to revisit The Man From Earth, a movie that is nothing short of a miracle.

And a miracle it was – it was the first ever movie where the creators thanked the ‘pirates’ or the illegal downloaders for spreading the good word about the movie. Its success, through sheer word of mouth and nothing else, led to a crowd funding of sorts for a sequel. (Sadly, the sequel is not as great, considering the high standards the first movie had set). It was called the best sci-fi / indie movie of all time and won many awards at international film festivals, but then again, failed to make a dime for the creators. 

‘The Man from Earth’ is about a professor, John Oldman, who is moving on from his current college to a new place, and the farewell organised by his colleagues and a student, in his house. Yes, the entire movie happens inside a house. The farewell turns out to be something completely unexpected, and then ‘IT’ happens. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to divulge what happens, since that would be a spoiler!

What makes it unique is how a movie can be built on a single idea. No side stories, no other characters in the focus for most part of the film, all intellectual conversations and still managing to make the viewer gasp when the idea hits you. As I write this, I’m also realising how challenging it is to write about this movie without spoiling it, but I’ll give it a shot! Picture this – you are in the driver’s seat and you are climbing up a steep slope without any visibility of what’s beyond the slope. Sure, you can see that the roads are awesome, and you know something is coming, but you have no clue what’s beyond the top point. And then you reach the top and see it all – a breathtaking landscape, with lakes, waterfalls and a beach beyond that. You want to stop the car and take a pause and take it all in, but you want to go further. It is something similar that happened to me. And continues to happen everytime I watch the movie! 

The movie was a turning point for me when I first watched it more than a decade back. Prior to this, the amateur movie fan that I was, a great movie meant elaborate sets, visually pleasing cinematography, renowned actors – in short great production values. In that regard, The Man from Earth was an eye opener – it taught me that, in movies and in life, if the idea is great, even with a decent execution, nothing else matters. Apart from opening up a classics-only reader to science fiction, it started being a source of inspiration, motivating me to discover and relish in new ideas at work and elsewhere. I would later realise that the movie was also the seed that started questioning my religious beliefs. 

More than anything, it taught me to suspend my disbelief. Be it another movie that you are enjoying immensely, but abound with glaring loopholes, or a book which demands you to take off to an imaginary land leaving the rational and the known behind, or in life when you meet that special someone, who is poles apart from you, but you still end up falling in love with! Suffice to say that ‘The Man from Earth’ – which has no A-listers, which wasn’t a great box office success, which has no violence, action or even trailer-worthy content, continues its reign as one of my all time favourite movies.