‘The Man from Earth’: A Researcher’s Review

A great afternoon the other day with the friend who brought this 2007 movie, and a great evening later on watching it all over again, on my own this time, to fully absorb and digest every moment of that fascinating film.

Many memories re-awakened fill my consciousness as a result, memories of other such movies that I have loved, on the same central theme, exemplified through various special species looking like the ordinary Humans, but always in some way not quite the same as them:

‘Highlander’, ‘Twilight’, Tolkien’s Elves as portrayed in his books and now in Peter Jackson’s films as well, not only ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but also ‘The Hobbit’…

All about: IMMORTALITY.

In this physical realm down here on Earth.

And portrayed how this time, in this specific movie?

Yet another take on this subject that is lurking irresistibly since ever in our subconscious depths… and nowadays is  presented openly also in some scientific real attempts, not just from the realm of science-fiction books and movies.

Here is the trailer to this film:

Simply looking, through the inevitable Google search, for the video I then posted above, made me discover there is a whole Facebook Page about this movie, with great numbers of people interested in it. Several other sites and other references listed out in the quite long Google results revealed at once to me that the Myth is still extremely alive and well… just like the ‘immortal’ man this story is precisely about, discretely living among other human beings not just since several centuries or maximum two millennia as the ones in ‘Highlander’ had, but since 14000 years. That is, since the cavemen times. Rather impressive!

Of course, in all the fictive examples mentioned above, immortality goes always together with eternal youthfulness, and invulnerability to a large degree – although you will notice that in all those examples under certain conditions death is still possible. So some risk still exists that the supposedly endless life of that kind of ‘immortal’ person may suddenly stop. just like the life of any mortal person – with the only difference that it will be after a much longer time than that of an ordinary mortal person’s life. But apart from the quite restricted and specific conditions under which death will occur, other types of wounds will heal very quickly and without leaving a scar, indicating some unusual capacity of self-regeneration in their body, whatever its origin may be.

In the case of History teacher John Oldman with the fitting name, the hero in this new re-telling of the same eternal Myth, he says he has stopped aging after reaching 35, plus he has survived all kinds of wounds and deadly diseases over the centuries and millennia; he does describe the same “no scars” phenomenon for his own body, including the normal scars from small-pox, but doesn’t claim any immortality as such, only having lived for an extremely long time.

So there is indeed a huge amount of suspense when at a certain point in the film he is aimed at with a gun by one of the regular human beings, most of them his closest colleagues and friends, to whom, before he leaves, he has just attempted to reveal his true story. Their extremely diverse reactions to it constitute practically the entire movie. The gun pointed at him was going to reveal to us all as well as to them whether or not this supposedly special body that didn’t scar, could nevertheless die if hit in the right place by a bullet. But in the film (BIG SPOILER AHEAD, STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT), the bullet is never shot, so nobody finds out anything through that incident. Not a single drop of blood is shed in this movie.

Yes, that’s right, no ‘action’ in this film, no car chase, no violence, nobody killing anybody – although someone dies.

And no sex either – although there is a discrete but strong ongoing love story that is quite likely to develop into that too later, as the relationship takes on a more definite shape with the film’s end.

In a refreshingly sober manner, during the film everything happens basically on the psychological level only, within that one living-room where sit together all those ordinary people full of academic degrees and experience, but who are now for the very first time in their lives faced with someone they thought they knew well, a ten year-long colleague, who during the farewell party they improvise for him at his place:

– soon says, hesitantly but quite clearly, that he has actually been alive on Earth for 14000 years,

– doesn’t seem to be mad at all,

– and may not be lying.

What an unbelievable, mind-blowing revelation for this half-dozen assorted individuals whom their whole upbringing in our rationalistic, materialistic, no-nonsense contemporary society hasn’t prepared at all for such a mind-shattering tale.

Through almost the entire film our interest keeps being riveted to it simply by watching how slowly, but surely, the utmost simplicity and calm with which their friend John Oldman answers at first their embarrassed silence, and then their increasingly sharp and pointed questions, makes his story sound more and more believable, nearly plausible. As time passes and the plausibility of what he says grows on them, some of those assorted individuals, stung out of their usual superficial routine mode of thinking and behaving, start reacting at a much deeper level, each of them soon revealing what truly makes them tick, and what they make out of this totally astonishing and disturbing story they are being told.

But not all are able to bear the terrible pressure this whole developing scene is putting them through. Someone discretely calls a psychiatrist they all know, who then joins the group, but quickly shows that he even less than the others, given some recent personal events in his own life, is in a stable enough psychological condition to sustain this new, unexpected ordeal  for his mental and emotional being.

What is especially moving in all this is to see how their friend John, although somewhat estranged now in their bewildered eyes, radiates more and more a quiet but intense compassion for those of them who are in distress because of the various historical revelations they hear from him in answer to their pressing, eager questioning; some of these revelations, that in spite of themselves they take more and more seriously, shatter many of their previous dearest beliefs – particularly her religious beliefs in the case of the older lady specialist in that field.

When she starts breaking down, the psychiatrist takes it upon himself to order John to stop this horrendous hoax and let everyone return to their usual balance. John hesitates, then complies, declaring his story to be a lie that built up from the very questions he was being asked.

Now reassured, all leave one by one, seeing again John more or less only as the dear old friend he has been for them since a decade; but a few can somehow still sense that the story was true, and feel its supposed ending as a let down they aren’t willing to accept. Those few aren’t leaving so easily, and when they finally do, find some hesitant words to express their trust in what he had revealed to them.

Until then, just like for all of them, we the audience had been kept in the dark as to whether or not the story had been true, whether or not truly John Oldman didn’t age, and had been alive for much longer than he seemed, a witness and participant in all the historical periods he had described in a somewhat first-hand manner, and soon directly in the first person.

Just before the film ends with him departing in his loaded truck with the beautiful and serene colleague who loves him and whom he loves, for a life lived together that he has warned her can only last whatever it will last, then at that point, just before their departure, something more happens, that reveals the truth of the whole matter.

But I will not tell you what it is, nor what it reveals!… It is a too well crafted event for me to spoil here the ultimate surprise this remarkable film has in store for you…

In all the fictive examples given to us through the various imagined stories mentioned above, except the ‘Twilight’ vampires, to whom I’ll come back later, no explanation was offered for the immortal condition of the bodies of those concerned:

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth tales the Elves, the ‘First-Born’, were made as one specific species by Eru, the One Supreme Being, with that specific gift of physical immortality, in deliberate contrast  with the Mortal other main species that Men, the ‘Second-Born’ were, having on the other hand some other crucial advantages that the Elves didn’t have. But at least the Elves didn’t exist as isolated  individual curiosities, they existed within the Group-Consciousness of their own species.

So did the Vampires too, in the ‘Twilight’ Saga… at least until among them some, under the beautiful inner influence  of Carlisle Cullen, developed an idealistic tendency and determination to feed only on animals and never anymore on humans, constituting in that way a separate grouping, but with still a sense of belonging, a sense of collective as well as individual existence, within their own new grouping..

The Immortals we met in ‘Highlander’ came from some mysterious other origin than Men, as we learn from the very beginning of the first film through the deep voice of Sean Connery, who plays one of the most ancient of them, Egyptian long before becoming the Spanish Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (links here from Wikipedia). in the great, somewhat blood-curdling Message that printed itself before our eyes at the same time as his disembodied voice spoke it out:

“From the Dawn of Time we came, moving silently down through the centuries. Living many secret lives. Struggling to reach the Time of the Gathering, when the few who remain will battle to the last. No one has ever known we were among you… until now.”

The film’s tagline, “There can be only one”, says it all: those Immortals are there only to gradually eliminate each other until one only remains, the one who will have proven to be the strongest one.

This would seem to give automatically the supremacy to physical power and skill in fighting, qualities not often found together with the qualities of the heart: tenderness and compassion for others.

What actually happens though, for which I love this story, is that still you’ve got the Bad Guys, who basically think only of taking advantage of their superior strength and almost total invulnerability, to wreak as much havoc as they can wherever they go, totally intent on winning again and again until they are the only one left, the last one standing, the ultimate victorious one.

The  Good Guys too have the very same intention, of course… but their motivation is completely different, and that makes  the whole difference: in their case, it is not really personal ambition and lust for Power that keeps them going and improving their capacities, but on the contrary concern for the world and the beings who inhabit it, especially the Human beings: It must absolutely be a Good Guy who wins in the end, for if it were one of the Bad Guys, the coming into supreme Power of that one would mean eternal hell on Earth for all. To avoid such a final Disaster, the Good Guys will take any risk and go through any ordeal so as to make sure it is one of them who wins the Ultimate Victory and becomes the supreme Ruler upon Earth. Hence for Connor Mc Leod the Highlander warrior from 1536 in Scotland, now known as Russell Nash in New York City, 1985, the necessity not only to survive for their own sake, but also to grow strong enough outwardly and inwardly, to finally overcome his fiercest enemy, the huge and brutish Kurgan, responsible already for the death of several of the Highlander’s dear ‘immortal’ friends and allies in the far and recent past, the energy of each vanquished foe adding itself as always to that of the winner.

None of this highly competitive fate and dramatic situation for ‘The Man from Earth’. He has no idea what or who made him the way he is, nor for which purpose, if any. Only once in those 14000 years did he feel he had met someone else like him; but nothing came out from their meeting: their mutual suspicions that the other one was faking it, destroyed in both any real intention to meet again. So John Oldman, for all intents and purposes a solitary individual, seems very much to be a one of a kind phenomenon whose uniqueness constitutes one more fascinating aspect to the mystery of his existence.

But it is precisely the special value of this film, I would say: stripped of all swash-buckling, ancient katana wielding imagery and additional glory, the central problem someone like John Oldman is facing all the time is revealed in all its bare, hideous simplicity: the other, ordinary human beings, the mortal ones, cannot bear his enigmatic and somewhat unjust existence: Why is he not dying, when everyone else is dying?

Within the hardly one and a half hour that the cheerfully improvised Farewell Party lasts, tempers flare up and bitterness grows in some of the mortal people present there, to the point that he almost gets killed. Although he no doubt remains essentially the same amiable person they had appreciated and befriended before, most of his colleagues feel alienated from him simply by the fact of this new, bewildering dimension suddenly added to what they knew of him before; through the experiential knowledge he has acquired for so long, he becomes a threat on their own sense of self-esteem even in each one’s specialized field of expertise.

And the worst is that poor John Oldman has nothing to offer them in exchange for all that he unintentionally is taking away from them, upsetting for ever their quiet mortal lives. He can only go away, leaving them in the more or less profound ditch in which his unintentional talk with them has precipitated them, and his tardy explanations hardly retrieved them from later on. Afterwards, who among them will not remain haunted to some extent at least, by the questions asked on that fateful afternoon, and by the answers received?…

But perhaps still could we say that, however each of them feels by the time he or she leaves the house, the gift John Oldman has anyway given them all is precisely that at least: some deeper questioning on what is possible or not, and on their own lives and the meaning of Life itself…

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