The Man from Earth (2007)   2 comments

Above:  John Oldman

(A Screen Capture)



David Lee Smith as Dr. John Oldman (a historian)

Tony Todd as Dan (an anthropologist)

John Billingsley as Harry (a biologist)

Ellen Crawford as Edith (a historian)

Annika Peterson as Sandy (a secretary)

William Katt as Dr. Arthur “Art” M. Jenkins (an archaeologist)

Alexis Thorpe as Linda Murphy (an undergraduate student)

Richard Riehle as Dr. William Gruber (a psychologist)

Written by Jerome Bixby

Screenplay rewritten slightly  by Emerson Bixby

Directed by Richard Schenkman

1 hour, 27 minutes


Science fiction, when done properly, is a genre of ideas.  Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry placed social commentary into the mouths of space aliens in 1960s television programs.  To have mere humans say such things would have been too controversial, but for extraterrestrials to utter them was somehow acceptable.  Yet, what passes too often for filmed science fiction consists of nothing more than explosions and plot hole-ridden stories designed for young men afflicted with ADHD.  The Man from Earth is not that kind of movie.

This movie, set a rustic cabin in southern California, is the tale of a farewell party some college faculty members and a secretary throw for a departing colleague, Dr. John Oldman.  People have begun to notice that he looks just as young as he did ten years ago.  So Oldman is moving along.  The faculty members are:

  1. Dan, an anthropologist and the guest most sympathetic to Oldman;
  2. Harry, a biologist and a generally annoying person;
  3. Edith, a historian and a devout Christian not a Biblical literalist;
  4. Arthur “Art” M. Jenkins, an archaeologist and the main protagonist; and
  5. William Gruber, a psychologist whom Art calls in to evaluate Oldman’s mental state.

Sandy, a secretary at the History Department of the unnamed college, also attends.  She has a platonic love relationship with Oldman.  And Art brings along his student and girlfriend, Linda Murphy, who is young enough to be his daughter.  Art clings to youth in other ways; he wears his hair long, in a ponytail, and rides a motorcycle.

Pressed by his colleagues, Oldman tells them that he is a Cro-Magnon and that he has lived at least 14,000 years, although he does not look a day over thirty-five.  He has had to move along many times because of his perpetually youthful condition, which people notice about every ten years, as they look older but he does not.  Oldman has loved many times, seen many friends and lovers die, and has had to leave some families behind.  Now he lives alone.  And he has had a variety of aliases (often puns, as in Oldman for “old man”), but usually calls himself John.

Oldman’s colleagues (except Dan) react with disbelief.  Oldman must be either lying or delusional, they say.  To claim that he knew Hammurabi, the Buddha, Christopher Columbus, and Vincent Van Gogh (who gave him a painting) is certainly odd.  Yet, when Oldman says that he was the historical Jesus, reactions become truly mixed.  Edith, labels it blasphemy while others take the opportunity to quote ancient comparative religion gleefully without claiming to accept Oldman’s claim.  Dan, an anthropologist, reserves judgment throughout the film, and Sandy, the secretary, accepts Oldman as he is.  So she believes his version of events.

The proof of Oldman’s claims comes from small details which only Gruber and Sandy hear after everybody else has left.  Gruber overhears Oldman reveal one of his previous aliases, Professor John T. Partee, a chemistry professor at Harvard University sixty years prior.  Then Gruber knows that Oldman is his father, who left the family behind when he (Gruber) was three years old.  It seems that Partee had a a beard, and Gruber never suspected previously that Oldman, who looked look a clean-shaven Partee with a different haircut, was his father.  But, sixty years ago, in Boston, people had begun to notice that Professor Partee looked just as he had ten years prior.

And what about Sandy?  Oldman drives off into the night with her.  She loves him, accepts him for who and what he is, and is willing to take all the time he can give her.

The Man from Earth, although the last script by Jerome Bixby (died 1998), grew from a concept he had been exploring for decades.  It is an intelligent script, one which calls for much talking and no special effects.  Characters discuss philosophy and religion at length.  And, even if some of them add 2 and 2 only to arrive at a sum of 5, that fact does not negate the validity of the facts they quote.

As a classic Star Trek fan I noticed a similarity to another Jerome Bixby script, Requiem for Methuselah (1968).  In that episode, one of the last of that series, Kirk and Spock meet Flint, a human over 6,000 years old.  Tissue regeneration has granted him extraordinary long life, as it has John Oldman.  Flint was Methuselah, Solomon, Alexander the Great, Lazarus (friend of Jesus), Merlin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Johannes Brahms.  And Flint knew Moses, Socrates, Jesus, and Galileo Galilei.  In The Man from Earth Oldman mentions having met another man like himself in the 1600s and seen him again from a distance in the 1800s.  This man was supposed to have been Flint, although I suppose they might have met in first century Judea.  But Oldman claims never to have raised anyone from the dead.  Of course, if Flint was Lazarus, he did not die.  And Oldman, in the movie, does forget certain details.

As for the central premise of The Man from Earth–that the historical Jesus was really a long-lived caveman who went on to earn ten doctorates in seventeen decades–it is only a story–a work of fiction, albeit a well-written and well-acted one.  There is no need to raise one’s hackles or to become angry, as some of the professors in the film did.








2 responses to “The Man from Earth (2007)

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  1. A friend of mine recommended this movie to me
    Although I found the premise interesting, the movie underwhelmed me overall.
    In my opinion, the movie had everything right. The only thing is that it was somewhat poorly executed (I’m talking about the acting, screenplay, cinematography, and everything else)
    There might also be a counterargument that in a movie like this, you have little room to improve upon, but movies like 12 Angry Men, and Gone Girl go to prove how important acting and screenplay are in movies like these.
    Overall this is was a good time spent 😀

  2. What a great movie 🙂
    Just go with it and don’t think too much – that’s my advice.
    A sequel is cool as time is an illusion / constraint etc etc.
    Love and Respect to all – Malcolm (Leeds,the universe)

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