Sci-Fi Jerome Bixby's The Man From Earth


Code Monkey
Staff member
Genre writer Jerome Bixby, perhaps best known for the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, started The Man From Earth as a screenplay in the 1960's and finished it during his final days before his death in 1998. Directed by Richard Schenkman, the movie is the story of John Oldman, a college Professor who is retiring from his position and is visited by several of his colleagues at his cabin before he moves to a new home.
Gathered are John (David Lee Smith), Harry (John Billingsley) who is a biologist, Dan (Tony Todd) who is an anthropologist, Sandy (Annika Peterson) who is an historian and is secretly in love with John, and Edith (Ellen Crawford) who is a fellow professor with strong religious beliefs. Arriving later are Art (William Katt), an archeologist, and Linda (Alexis Thorpe) who is Art's student.

John seems troubled and as the conversation goes he asks the gathering "What if a man, from the Upper Paleolithic, survived until the present day?" Assuming that John is asking under the pretense of writing a science fiction story, his friends play along and theorize how such a man could exist. As the well educated group argue amongst themselves regarding the topic, John slowly admits that he is talking about himself and that in fact he was born over 14,000 years ago.

Art, convinced that John has mentally come unhinged, calls another colleague, Dr. Will Gruber (Richard Riehle), who is an older psychiatrist. Will prompts John to continue his story and urges the other to listen to John's story with an open mind.
If I was to go any further with the synopsis then some possible spoilers would be revealed so I will leave it up to you to either track down a copy of the movie or search the net for the full story.

The film is a fascinating story that takes place almost entirely in the small room of the cabin. As John tells his story you find yourself being drawn into the conversation, waiting for more information to be revealed, asking some of the same questions that the other characters in the room do. Soon the camera acts as your eyes and you find yourself in the small cabin room quietly watching the events unfold.

As John continues his tale, you find yourself wondering, along with the others in the room, if this is for real or if it is just a really elaborate story. Is it possible?

The story of somebody who is far older than they appear is not a new concept but this movie is unique in that immortality is not really the focus of it. There are no epic battles to show the character rising from the dead, no flash back scenes to moments in history, no special effects at all, no big name stars (though you may recognize the actors)... it is just a story being told amongst a small group of friends.

Even if these types of movies are not your usual type to watch, give this one a try. You may be surprised to find yourself totally engrossed in what John has to say.

I thought this film was a basic STV effort, almost written like a play (which we've seen in a number of films across numerous genres recently.) Follow the script and accept the reactions of the characters, think, "what if?" Come away and just forget the whole film.

Strangely, it is an interesting 90 minutes long story for agnostic or atheist scifi fans yet in my experience, when you give the story away to, for instance staunch Roman Catholics, you get grief for even bringing up the issue of them viewing it. If you've seen it, then you'll know what I mean. If you're in that category mentioned, you might not want to watch it in case it hurts your sensibilities. Although I have to say it's no way near as problematic as Dogma was (Matt Damon/Ben Affleck) So I remember this film on two levels. One for its forgettable routine story and acting, second for the trouble I got into for merely suggesting certain people watch it.
That's a great movie. Shows just how good a sci fi film can be with no special effects.
I totally agree. Apparently Tim wasn't much of a fan of the movie but I really enjoyed it because the story it told had me totally captivated even though everything takes place in a small room with just a few people and no special effects.
Brilliant film. It skips the action pacted brain sedative that hollywood tends to throw at us and focuses on a story that makes you think. By far one of the best films I've seen.
Film: The Man From Earth (2007)

The Man From Earthis a 2007 film with a screenplay by Jerome Bixby. That name seemed familiar to me so I looked it up and was reminded that Bixby was a prolific SF short-story writer in the 1950s and 1960s, probably best known for the chilling "It's a Good Life", a story I recall very well despite having read it several decades ago. Bixby also wrote screenplays, working on scripts for Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and four movies; The Man from Earth was his last work.

The plot is not entirely original but is unusual enough to be intriguing: a professor rather unwillingly hosts an impromptu farewell do for his academic friends, having decided to leave at short notice. They are baffled and hurt by his sudden decision, and pester him for an explanation. He eventually reveals that he always moves on every ten years to conceal the fact that he never ages; he was actually born 14,000 years ago. His friends are naturally incredulous and an intense debate takes place during which he fields their questions and challenges, with many revelations, twists and turns and more than a little emotion displayed.

The production could hardly be simpler as almost the entire film takes place in one room and consists only of half-a-dozen people talking to each other for an hour and a half; it was made on a budget of $200,000. It has more the feel of a good stage play than a movie (I was not surprised to discover that it was subsequently turned into a successful play). Despite this, it is one of the most absorbing and gripping films I have seen in a long time. The dialogue is very intelligent and thought-provoking, the shifting relationships between the characters fascinating; this is unquestionably a film for adults (very much a rarity in the SFF field). I discovered that it won a whole bunch of awards, mostly for its screenplay, and I am not at all surprised. It was released straight to DVD which I suppose is understandable considering the complete lack of any of the action, CGI, chases, fights or explosions that cinema audiences seem to require these days, but it really should not be missed.

The plot of the film did make me think: just how easy would it be these days for anyone to keep reinventing themselves every decade? I suppose it would depend on the circumstances: if you are happy with casual, cash-in-hand jobs then you could survive unnoticed for a long time, especially in the heart of a major city where hardly anyone knows their neighbours and you probably wouldn't even need to move around very much. But if you want a professional job it gets much more difficult; a professor would come from an existing academic post, would be known by others in his field of study, would be expected to have published academic papers and so on. And that's before we get into the whole panoply of personal data held by governments and other authorities. If you have money and know the right people, then you can buy forged ID and other documents, but these will only stand up to a certain level of scrutiny; it takes the resources of a government to create bomb-proof in-depth false identities. Curiously, this minor flaw in the film's plot niggled me rather more than the impossibility of anyone living for 14,000 years!

(This entry is cross-posted from my science-fiction & fantasy blog.)
Curiously, this minor flaw in the film's plot niggled me rather more than the impossibility of anyone living for 14,000 years!
Oddly, that is something that bugs me as well about movies where a character has lived a longer than usual time span. In modern times it is not exactly easy to fake a full identity background unless, as you said, the person instead opts for mostly cash based jobs and keeps a low profile. A job in academia would tend to be scrutinized.

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