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The Man from Earth (2007)

Science fiction movies are fun. Who doesn't enjoy ray guns and space ships and stars shimmying past at warp factor nine? What draws me toward sci-fi, though, is thinking about things I'll never see, stuck as I am living my limited life circa 2020 on this rock we call Earth.

Done right, science fiction takes you elsewhere and makes you think, and The Man from Earth is sci-fi done right, but with no special effects at all. For an hour and a half, people talk and the audience thinks. That's the movie.

A college professor has resigned without saying why. As he's packing his possessions into a truck, some friends and colleagues show up unexpectedly, to throw an impromptu going-away party, and to ask again why he's leaving. With some whiskey and some hesitation, the professor decides to explain.

He starts by asking, "What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic survived until the present day?" Well, that would make him around 14,000 years old. Quite a strange riddle, but the professor's friends are academics at the college, so they play along, wondering whether he's perhaps writing a science fiction novel. It quickly becomes clear, though, that the question isn't hypothetical. He's saying that he's a man who never grows old. That's why he's leaving: "Every ten years or so, when people start to notice that I don't age, I move on."

The rest of the film smartly wonders what that would be like, beginning with biological questions of how a man could survive so long. We're told some of what he remembers, and what he's forgotten; where he's been, and who he's known in his myriad travels. Would someone so old still be capable of feeling love? And how would a roomful of smart, well-educated 21st-century people respond to such a scenario, when it's presented as plausible?

"You need help," says a psychiatrist in the movie.

"Everybody needs help" is the protagonist's answer.

"Yes, well, some more than others."

The script is from Jerome Bixby, who wrote good short stories (I've read a few!) and also wrote for the original Star Trek and Twilight Zone. The dialogue is a bit academic, but that's appropriate, since most of the characters are scientists and educators. It's a low-budget production, with a few familiar faces and a cast of mostly unknown actors, but they pull it off, with only a few lines delivered clumsily.

Good science fiction makes you think. I've seen The Man from Earth four times, and every time it's left me wide awake and percolating with wild thoughts. If you're undecided, here's the trailer. The full movie is available for free if you have Amazon Prime.

 

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