The Man from Earth
directed by Richard Shenkman
starring David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley
Falling Sky Entertainment
What if you never age? What if you never die? What if you are 14,000 years old and still look like you’re in your late thirties? Then you’d have a darn cool sci-fi concept that eschews ray guns, time travel, and rubber-faced monsters. This minor classic of the genera came from James Bixby, famed sci-fi writer. He wrote for Star Trek and Twilight Zone, and his last project was this decidedly low-tech, high concept story. John Oldman (Smith) plays an unassuming man who came to life in the stone age, and like the Wandering Jew, is cursed to walk the earth unable to die. Well, he COULD die but lucky him, he survived disease, war and accidents and now teaches anthropology at a minor college in Nowhereville, America. Today he’s about to make another jump, but his friends catch him before he disappears. Since he never ages, every ten years or so he moves on to a new set of friends. How he pulls that off in this digital age isn’t clear; that’s part of the sci-fi here. We then plunge into the heart of this movie: What does it mean to live forever? Here, the answer is simple: travel light, keep entanglements limited, and keep moving.
This may be the most psychological and philosophical sci-fi ever written. The tension lies in the concept, not the effects, and that makes it special. John blends in, until he doesn’t; then he moves on. It also raises questions we all need to answer: why are we here, what are we doing, why do we care? While John seems to have been at a surprising number of historical events, he also seems a completely normal middle-class American with no odd accent, and a faculty for learning new languages. This is a real sci-fi think piece; no special effects or alien invaders appear. The threat here isn’t existential end of the world, it’s more “How could one deal with immortality even if you maintained perfect health?” The story is wordier than most movies but pulls you along. In special features director Richard Shenkman talks about how the script went from film to a widely translated theater piece. There’s even example footage of an Orlando Fringe production in 2017 to prove the point. Put away your ray guns and get out your Latin primer, this is one of the most textually satisfying scifi films ever.