Because I am hip and cool and up on all the latest atheist thingies, I just watched The Man From Earth, a movie (from *cough*2007*cough*) that was recommended to me by, well, every atheist I know. I didn’t bother to find out anything about the plot before watching â€“ I assumed I’d love it because all my friends loved it.
Man you guys, did I hate it. I’m thinking of shopping for new friends.
Before you all begin to pour your anger into the comment form, please! Allow me to explain!
Heads up, kids: there will be spoilers. I’ll try to call them out as I go but the big one is sort of the whole plot of the movie so I can’t avoid it.
Really, there were only four things wrong with this movie, and they were as follows:
- Bad production values
- Bad acting
- Bad writing
- Bad storyline
Let’s take them in order!
1. Bad Production Values
I can overlook the first problem for an otherwise good story, but I wanted to mention it because it’s really pretty terrible in this movie. The audio is badly dubbed and I know nothing about cameras but I do know that you should probably either use one that works in low light or not bother having scenes that take place in dimly lit rooms.
2. Bad Acting
I’m willing to forgive the second, since the actors are saddled with clunky dialogue and witless witticisms with subject-verb and pronoun problems. So I’ll just jump right to
3. Bad Writing
John Oldman: Believe in what He tried to teach without the rigmarole. Piety is not what the lessons bring to people, it’s the mistakes they bring to the lessons.
John Oldman: I had a chance to sail with Columbus, only I’m not the adventurous type. I was pretty sure the earth was round, but at that point I still thought he *might* fall off an edge some place.
The Group: [incredulous looks all around the room] Art: Look around John, we just did!
Me: You just did what?
SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT!
Dr Gruber: [climax of the movie requiring the channeling of vast amounts of pathos]: What was our dog’s name?
Dr Gruber: [beating breasts and crying] WOOOOOOFFFIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
If I had the time or energy to rewatch the film, I’d gladly list a dozen more examples, but I’ll just move on to
4. Bad Storyline
Here’s where I have to give away the main plot point, so turn back now if you want to remain blissfully ignorant.
John Oldman is leaving town, and at his going away party he informs his university colleagues that he has been alive for about 14,000 years. Not only that, but he’s met pretty much everybody, like some kind of Paleolithic Forrest Gump: Picasso, the Buddha, that guy who painted the caves at Lascaux â€“ you get the idea.
Eventually the topic turns to religion. John doesn’t want to talk about it, because in 14,000 years he’s learned that it’s impolite at parties to discuss religion or politics. OH AND ALSO BECAUSE HE’S JESUS!
This didn’t exactly come as a shock to me, since by this point I knew that 1. atheists love this movie and 2. the storyline was as subtle as a brick to the face, so I pretty much figured.
One of the other party attendees is a grumpy old lady who also happens to be a Christian, and just on the saner side of being a Biblical literalist. Her job here as a character is to be one-dimensional and cry a lot while saying things like “Say it isn’t true!” over and over again.
John explains that he’s not the son of God, just some guy who wanted to pass along the Buddha’s teachings. I guess this is why atheists like this movie? Because Jesus is just some guy? But . . . he’s also a supernatural being who is ostensibly immortal. Oh and he says that the Old Testament totally sucked but the New Testament was all happy love, which makes me wonder why in all this time he never bothered to read the books that were supposedly written about him. Like Matthew 15:22-26, where a Canaanite woman begs Jesus for help and he calls her a dog. NICE, Jesus.
Some of the conversation at the party revolves around the fact that John has to move on every ten years when people begin to notice that he doesn’t age. There’s a girl at the party who tells him that she’s in love with him. He admits he’s fond of her (and sexually attracted to her) but that’s it, and he’d just move on in ten years again. She basically says, “Good enough!” She’s completely one-dimensional as well, so I can only assume that she has incredibly low self-esteem, and John is going to hit that so hard. Why? Because he’s Jesus and he can.
Now I’m going to have to spoil the last obvious “twist” at the end of the movie, so you may want to avert your eyes.
One of the party attendees is an old psychiatrist (Dr Gruber) whose wife has just died so he unconvincingly pulls a gun on John because he’s angry? I guess? At the end of the movie, John is on the porch with the piece of tail laughing about some of the stupid names he’s had to make up in the past. Dr Gruber overhears one and realizes that John was his dad. Then the conversation I quoted above happens (WOOOOFFIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!). Gruber whines that John abandoned their family. John says, “Yeah, sorry about that.” Then Gruber keels over and dies. I think this all happens over the course of maybe a minute.
The dialogue is laughable (WOOOOFFIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE!) but this was probably the best opportunity for the movie to be something interesting, or at least thought-provoking. What does an immortal do when confronted with the death of a son he abandoned?
I’ll tell you what he does: hops in his truck with Candypants, smiles, and takes off for a new town. THE END
The incident wasn’t long enough or powerful enough to make John into a complex character. He’s still supposed to be likable, and I think we’re even supposed to feel sorry for him because he can’t settle down for long.
When I Tweeted last night about my feelings on the film, a few people responded to say they enjoyed it as a long Outer Limits or Twilight Zone-style show. I agree that had this been a 20-minute episode of the Twilight Zone, I’d have been pretty happy with it, and I probably would have wished it could be expanded into a full movie. But then I would assume that the other 70 minutes would be full of actual character development instead of more stilted dialogue and senseless banter.
So, that’s a fairly thorough wrap-up of my thoughts the day after seeing it. Since I know a lot of you have seen it and loved it, I’d like to hear your thoughts on why you enjoyed it. Obviously people have different tastes, but I wonder how many people enjoyed this movie simply because we don’t see a lot of movies that deal with religious themes like that.
Also, I wanted to end this review by recommending a better movie in this vein, but I’m honestly stumped. Any ideas?