The Man From Earth (2007) Movie Review

“The Man From Earth” is a time travel movie that never travels through time; it’s very much a talky movie in every sense of the word, as the entire film consists of a group of people sitting around a cabin discussing theories and hypothesis, much of it based on truth as told by one man who may or may not be lying. It is, for all intents and purposes, a play shot as a movie, based on the last story ever written by noted sci-fi writer Jerome Bixby. And you know what? It is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.

When I say there is no action in “The Man From Earth”, I mean there is not a single shred of action in the entire movie. That is, if you define “action” in traditional cinema terms — people doing things of the physical nature in service of narrative progression. The film, from beginning to end, is one big discussion on the nature of man, theorizing how, or why, a man would exist if he lived thousands of years, from the Cro-Magnon era to the present day. How would such a man function? How would he survive? What would be his reason for existence, if there were one at all?

The Man From Earth (2007) Movie ReviewIn order to explore this question, Bixby introduces us to the story of John Oldman (David Lee Smith), a college professor who is moving on. On the day of the move, John’s colleagues show up at his cabin for an impromptu goodbye party. He isn’t expecting it; in fact, he doesn’t seem to really want it. But soon John comes to embrace the opportunity the gathering provides him, and offers up the theory that he is, in fact, thousands of years old, having survived since the Paleolithic era when he began life as a caveman. And because he does not age, John leaves a place every ten years or so in order to skirt suspicion about his age.

Is he mad? Is he telling the truth? He seems to believe that he’s telling the truth. John’s colleagues, all intellectuals and experts in their field, are given this nugget so that they may question him and, if possible, contradict him. Can he die? Is he immortal? Does he exist outside of time? How does one exist for 14,000 years and live to tell the tale? What is the nature of religion to a man who has survived for that long? If he has seen what he has seen, does faith still hold sway? And for that matter, for what purposes are they even entertaining such wild ideas about someone they thought they knew for the last ten years?

The Man From Earth (2007) Movie ReviewClocking in at a breezy and very stimulating 90 minutes, “The Man From Earth” is sci-fi in premise, but not sci-fi in execution. The film is only concern with theories, with questions and answers, and the possibilities of those answers being true, and not the delusions of a creative mind. What is the nature of truth? Of survival? Of life? What does it all mean? Is there even any meaning to it? All good questions, and you won’t find a very satisfactory answer in the film, because it has few to offer.

“The Man From Earth” works if you allow it to work. The film does show its hand toward the end, perhaps as a concession to viewers who are demanding a firm answer in regards to John’s immortality — is he or isn’t he? It might have been better, and indeed I would have preferred it, if the film had not given an answer at all. Instead, “The Man From Earth” should have ended with ambiguity, leaving the question about John’s immortality muddled.

The Man From Earth (2007) Movie ReviewNevertheless, the ideas and notions presented in the film are interesting, a singular premise expanded into a feature-length film that is achieved wonderfully by cast and crew under a modest budget. The cast is excellent, led by a soulful performance from David Lee Smith. Genre vet Tony Todd puts away his knives for a strong supporting turn, and Richard Riehle as a doubting psychiatrist is effective. In a movie that involves a group of people arguing and exchanging ideas within one location, everything depends on the cast, and to his credit, director Richard Schenkman has cast the film brilliantly.

In a lot of ways, “The Man From Earth” is hard to describe. Even for an action junkie like myself, who usually finds it easy to shut off the brain in order to enjoy a movie, the premise and follow-through of Schenkman’s film is simply irresistible. Jerome Bixby, who was said to have finished the story on his deathbed, has crafted an unendingly fascinating tale of truth, lies, and possibilities. This is science fiction at its best, the kind that challenges and presents new ideas.

Take my advice and see this movie.

Richard Schenkman (director) / Jerome Bixby (screenplay)
CAST: John Billingsley … Harry
Ellen Crawford … Edith
William Katt … Art
Annika Peterson … Sandy
Richard Riehle … Gruber
David Lee Smith … John Oldman
Alexis Thorpe … Linda
Tony Todd … Dan


Buy Man From Earth on DVD



About Nix

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Editor/Writer at BeyondHollywood.com. Likes: long walks on the beach and Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic movies. Dislikes: 3D, shaky cam, and shaky cam in 3D. Got a site issue? Wanna submit Movie/TV news? Or to email me in regards to anything on the site, you can do so at nix (at) beyondhollywood.com.

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  • Betty Wilson

    This is one of the most phenomenal, intriguing, stirring, thought provoking movies I have EVER seen … It challenges ALL religious ideas and doesn’t allow you to sit back and NOT think and question why you believe what you believe… It’s a bit disconcerting but not disturbing…Extremely well acted. I can’t believe I sat there through this whole movie which consisted of people simply sitting around and talking! I loved that! This is definately a movie for people who actually enjoy thinking!

  • Betty Wilson

    This is one of the most phenomenal, intriguing, stirring, thought provoking movies I have EVER seen … It challenges ALL religious ideas and doesn’t allow you to sit back and NOT think and question why you believe what you believe… It’s a bit disconcerting but not disturbing…Extremely well acted. I can’t believe I sat there through this whole movie which consisted of people simply sitting around and talking! I loved that! This is definately a movie for people who actually enjoy thinking!

  • Dan Gottberg

    I think we have a brain for a reason…and this movie almost requires that you use it. If you have ever felt that the religious beliefs you were raised with don’t quite cut the mustard,than this movie should open your mind. It is one of the most thought provoking movies I have ever seen. Low budget, maybe, but it is well acted and I would strongly recommend this movie to anyone.

  • Dan Gottberg

    I think we have a brain for a reason…and this movie almost requires that you use it. If you have ever felt that the religious beliefs you were raised with don’t quite cut the mustard,than this movie should open your mind. It is one of the most thought provoking movies I have ever seen. Low budget, maybe, but it is well acted and I would strongly recommend this movie to anyone.

  • CWWJ

    I was absolutely fascinated by this little gem of a movie. Great story by Jerome Bixby, and good solid performance by everyone. I was puzzled by Nix’s review in which he (or she?) reports that there is no ambiguity at the end about whether or not John’s story is true. I thought the ending did leave the question unanswered. John gave an explanation to the group that would defuse its concerns and allow them all to get a good night’s sleep, but after the group was gone, the mystery returned and the question remained. I thought it was quite thought-provoking, dismissing religion but not the idea of a creator or the need for some kind of faith.

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

      As I recall, the ending was very clear where John’s truthfulness lies.

    • MCP2012

      CWWJ: That John Oldman is indeed telling the truth is evinced by the fact that he is revealled to be Gruber’s (Richard Riehle) father from 60+ years EARLIER back in Boston when “John Oldman” was “John T. Partee”, a Harvard chemistry prof. John Oldman verifies Gruber’s mother’s name (“Nola”) and the household’s pet dog’s name (“Woofy”). This revelation to Gruber, a psychiatrist with a bum heart, which revelation, of course, does indeed necessarily imply that John Oldman’s tale is TRUE, is lamentably too much for 60-something Gruber to handle, and it (the revelation) is at least partially causally to blame for Gruber’s having a massive, fatal heart attack.

      And I heartily concur with Nix, btw, that the casting and acting are superb with David Lee Smith (as well as the rest of the cast) provided a nuanced performance that carries the whole shebang. Smith’s “John Oldman” comes across a somewhat melancholy, world-weary person, who is nonetheless still in love with life and living, fearful of death, and–equally important–of being poked and prodded by “cigarette-smoking men” (a nod to the “X-files”) for a thousand or more years, should his secret ever be both revealled and taken seriously by “the authorities”. This is a GEM of a film!

  • CWWJ

    I was absolutely fascinated by this little gem of a movie. Great story by Jerome Bixby, and good solid performance by everyone. I was puzzled by Nix’s review in which he (or she?) reports that there is no ambiguity at the end about whether or not John’s story is true. I thought the ending did leave the question unanswered. John gave an explanation to the group that would defuse its concerns and allow them all to get a good night’s sleep, but after the group was gone, the mystery returned and the question remained. I thought it was quite thought-provoking, dismissing religion but not the idea of a creator or the need for some kind of faith.

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com Nix

      As I recall, the ending was very clear where John’s truthfulness lies.

    • MCP2012

      CWWJ: That John Oldman is indeed telling the truth is evinced by the fact that he is revealled to be Gruber’s (Richard Riehle) father from 60+ years EARLIER back in Boston when “John Oldman” was “John T. Partee”, a Harvard chemistry prof. John Oldman verifies Gruber’s mother’s name (“Nola”) and the household’s pet dog’s name (“Woofy”). This revelation to Gruber, a psychiatrist with a bum heart, which revelation, of course, does indeed necessarily imply that John Oldman’s tale is TRUE, is lamentably too much for 60-something Gruber to handle, and it (the revelation) is at least partially causally to blame for Gruber’s having a massive, fatal heart attack.

      And I heartily concur with Nix, btw, that the casting and acting are superb with David Lee Smith (as well as the rest of the cast) provided a nuanced performance that carries the whole shebang. Smith’s “John Oldman” comes across a somewhat melancholy, world-weary person, who is nonetheless still in love with life and living, fearful of death, and–equally important–of being poked and prodded by “cigarette-smoking men” (a nod to the “X-files”) for a thousand or more years, should his secret ever be both revealled and taken seriously by “the authorities”. This is a GEM of a film!

  • JLB

    I have now seen this movie twice and having just finsished it I am ready to see it again. I am very pleased that I found this movie. It is so captivating that I can’t help but to be on the edge of my seat during this “boring” plot. In regard to the ending I don’t think it is as clear as one might first think. I do think it is obvious- just that the meaning is deeper than it seems. Remember that Bixby finished this on his deathbed. The end is, in my opinion, the single greatest question asked while, at the same time, also being the answer. Pay close attention to the dialouge surrounding Johns relationships throughout the movie and especially just before he pulls away. Why was he a professor at said university? Something about this question has me completely puzzled.
    Great movie.

  • JLB

    I have now seen this movie twice and having just finsished it I am ready to see it again. I am very pleased that I found this movie. It is so captivating that I can’t help but to be on the edge of my seat during this “boring” plot. In regard to the ending I don’t think it is as clear as one might first think. I do think it is obvious- just that the meaning is deeper than it seems. Remember that Bixby finished this on his deathbed. The end is, in my opinion, the single greatest question asked while, at the same time, also being the answer. Pay close attention to the dialouge surrounding Johns relationships throughout the movie and especially just before he pulls away. Why was he a professor at said university? Something about this question has me completely puzzled.
    Great movie.

  • Ramon

    Definitely the most intellectually stimulating movie I have seen in a while. A must see for all those who have philosophized over why we cannot live eternally, what we would do if we could, how the “meaning of life” would change accordingly, etc. Moreover, it’s a must see if you are critical of religion and the embryonic beliefs of people who swear by a scripture full of fantasy written by people who would shake and scream in glossolalia and/or xenoglossy. It’s not mind-blowing per se, and it’s not coming up with a whole new theory, but it’s definitely provocative to religious zealots, and some times that’s just the perfect way to end a long day. It’s not that I would like to insult people of faith, but calling them zealots is more or less accurate. If you believe in parting oceans, resurrection, talking bushes, and that praying can heal cancer, you are a fanatic, let’s face it. If you ever said anything like that out of a religious context you would definitely be forced to eat pills. It is in this way that the movie reinforces the historical and scientific accuracy of us minority of atheists, as opposed to the fallacious teaching of most religions. And it is in this way the movie is not revealing any unknown truths about history and religion; it’s all passé so to speak. But we atheists are only 2% of the world population (can you believe that!?) and sometimes it’s good to watch a movie in a cozy philosophical setting, that puts everything you know in an entertainment piece with a few twists that could jolt the fanaticism out of a believer.
    The more I think about it, the more consistent the movie is. I have read reviews that criticize it for not posing more difficult questions to the caveman and for placing him in so many historically pivotal settings. However, it’s not the questions that matter, the premise is that he really is a caveman and that even intellectual scientific scrutiny (as opposed to biologically extracted evidence) cannot prove him right or wrong. We know the “truth” and if the director wanted he could easily have made a scene where he spoke twenty languages to convince them, but it would not be scientific evidence and the ones who did not believe him would continue that way. Most interestingly, he would most definitely have been at the centre of where things happened. Imagine how intellectually capable you are after 30 years, you know that if you want to challenge yourself, discover more about the world, you go to where it happens. He had lived for 13,000 years(!) before he joined Columbus, of course he had heard rumors and wanted to join, as with philosophers and artists, of course he would live in European capitals and could meet people like van Gogh. He possibly spent years in China, Africa, and Latin America as well and could have easily mentioned stories about religious figures, artists, and philosophers there. However, it’s only so much you can put in a movie and he can remember off the top of his head.

    • Flor_09

      Actually Ramon I definitely believe that there are only 2% of atheist in the world. Unbelieve that you people don’t believe in anything, concerning the many questions of life and that you just reduce all of our existence to simple science!. I have asked myself and researched over many of the of the questions raised in the movie, and I can tell you with full security that I believe in my religion, I BELIEVE. It is not fanatism, and the fact that you say that you now the “truth” honestly makes it really hard to believe that you are actually telling the real “truth”, or maybe you are don’t have the guts to believe in something. Good luck, you’ll need it….

  • Ramon

    Definitely the most intellectually stimulating movie I have seen in a while. A must see for all those who have philosophized over why we cannot live eternally, what we would do if we could, how the “meaning of life” would change accordingly, etc. Moreover, it’s a must see if you are critical of religion and the embryonic beliefs of people who swear by a scripture full of fantasy written by people who would shake and scream in glossolalia and/or xenoglossy. It’s not mind-blowing per se, and it’s not coming up with a whole new theory, but it’s definitely provocative to religious zealots, and some times that’s just the perfect way to end a long day. It’s not that I would like to insult people of faith, but calling them zealots is more or less accurate. If you believe in parting oceans, resurrection, talking bushes, and that praying can heal cancer, you are a fanatic, let’s face it. If you ever said anything like that out of a religious context you would definitely be forced to eat pills. It is in this way that the movie reinforces the historical and scientific accuracy of us minority of atheists, as opposed to the fallacious teaching of most religions. And it is in this way the movie is not revealing any unknown truths about history and religion; it’s all passé so to speak. But we atheists are only 2% of the world population (can you believe that!?) and sometimes it’s good to watch a movie in a cozy philosophical setting, that puts everything you know in an entertainment piece with a few twists that could jolt the fanaticism out of a believer.
    The more I think about it, the more consistent the movie is. I have read reviews that criticize it for not posing more difficult questions to the caveman and for placing him in so many historically pivotal settings. However, it’s not the questions that matter, the premise is that he really is a caveman and that even intellectual scientific scrutiny (as opposed to biologically extracted evidence) cannot prove him right or wrong. We know the “truth” and if the director wanted he could easily have made a scene where he spoke twenty languages to convince them, but it would not be scientific evidence and the ones who did not believe him would continue that way. Most interestingly, he would most definitely have been at the centre of where things happened. Imagine how intellectually capable you are after 30 years, you know that if you want to challenge yourself, discover more about the world, you go to where it happens. He had lived for 13,000 years(!) before he joined Columbus, of course he had heard rumors and wanted to join, as with philosophers and artists, of course he would live in European capitals and could meet people like van Gogh. He possibly spent years in China, Africa, and Latin America as well and could have easily mentioned stories about religious figures, artists, and philosophers there. However, it’s only so much you can put in a movie and he can remember off the top of his head.