"I think perhaps Mr. Newton has had enough, don't you?"
A 1976sci-fi film directed by Nicolas Roeg, based upon the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. It stars the thin, other-worldly David Bowie as the thin, other-worldly Thomas Jerome Newton. It centers around an extraterrestrial who journeys to Earth after his planet experiences an intense drought, determined to find a way to ship water to it. As he amasses a fortune with a variety of high-tech inventions, intending to use the money to build a ship that will solve his planet's problem, he embarks upon a love affair with a simple girl named Mary-Lou, which is nice, one supposes. Thomas also ends up starting a love affair with television and alcohol, which is a lot less nice, one supposes. To reveal any more would delve this into spoiler city. Let's simply say the ending is... sad.It has become a cult favorite for featuring highly surreal, striking imagery, to say nothing of Bowie in his first starring role. Another thing this film is noted for is that it has a few very gratuitous sex scenes. It's a somewhat slow, thoughtful piece, and YMMV on how well it works out.
Acting for Two: Candy Clark plays both Mary-Lou and the wife Thomas left behind. This isn't obvious because the latter is a Rubber Forehead Alien who has no dialogue. (She also played Thomas himself in one scene, with a hat pulled over her face, when David Bowie was ill.)
Now, Ziggy Stardust was an alien on Earth And he was doomed To fall to human vice, and leave his people blue Director knew! Nicholas Roeg must have known 'bout this Banned from space, this is a case Of casting your actor... based on his works!
Adaptation Dye Job: Thomas's hair is curly, white, and natural in the novel, but in the film it's Bowie's own Dye Hard red locks (he is a natural dark blonde), and those are revealed in-story to be part of his disguise, as he is hairless.
The Alcoholic: Thomas becomes one, thanks to Mary-Lou introducing him to the joys of alcohol.
Aliens Speaking English: Thomas. The flashbacks to his homeworld have no dialogue, so we have no idea what his native tongue is like, but we can assume he learned English as part of preparing for his mission.
Aliens Steal Cable: Thomas's people can observe Earth this way, so once he's established his business empire there he appears in an ad for it to serve as a coded greeting to his family back home. To bid his people farewell he records an album, figuring the message will be transmitted via radio waves.
Bottomless Magazines: A six-cylinder revolver is fired seventeen times in succession (on the other hand, they're all part of a montage...).
Downer Ending: Oh yes. Thomas slips into alcoholism, is captured by the government and experimented on for years, fails his planet, lets his family die, and loses the only thing he has left to love on Earth. The book goes one "better": when Thomas's ordeal is revealed to the public, it starts America down a political path towards nuclear war...something that — had his plan succeeded — would have been prevented.
E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: Thomas uses the advanced technology from his home planet to patent numerous inventions on Earth, leading to him becoming very wealthy.
Eye Scream: Thomas's eyes are extremely sensitive to x-ray light. In the novel, he is blinded when he is forcibly x-rayed, while in the movie, this trope comes into play in the equivalent event in that his contact lenses end up fused to his eyes when they won't let him remove them.
Fake Brit: Thomas is an in-universe example in both the book and the film.
The Film of the Book: Albeit with significant alterations, deletions, and expansions — there is no romantic relationship for Thomas on Earth in the book, and the sex lives of the characters aren't brought up at all, for starters. As well, the story is straightforwardly told in the novel. It's a Type 2 on the Sliding Scale Of Adaptation Modification (recognizable as an adaptation). The Criterion Collection DVD edition actually included a copy of the book.
Foreshadowing: The first person Thomas sees on Earth is an old, shabby wino. At the end, Thomas is just a better-dressed version of him.
Freaky Is Cool: Early on in their relationship, Mary-Lou says "You know Tommy, you're a freak. I don't mean that unkindly. I like freaks. And that's why I like you." (Sadly, when she sees his true form it becomes clear there's only so much freakiness she can take.)
Flashback: Many to Thomas's homeworld and family, revealing not only the sequence of events that forced him to leave on his mission but (in the sequence in which Mary-Lou rejects his true form) how his kind have sex. Later, the audience is also privy to what his family are doing in his absence.
Hot for Student: Dr. Nathan Bryce teaches some extra credit lessons to some of his female students...
Human Aliens: This is how Thomas appears most of the time, but it is an elaborate disguise. His actual form, which includes cat-like eyes and lacks ears, hair, fingernails, etc., belongs to the Rubber Forehead Aliens trope. This is a major change from the novel, in which Thomas doesn't need to alter his appearance much to walk amongst humans.
Humanity Is Infectious: Yes, indeed. Bowie stated in a 1980 interview with NME that Thomas "is a far better person at the end of the film than he was when he came down" thanks to this, which may well be true. But his saying that "what the effects of all that on him are is secondary" seems to easily dismiss the Downer Ending...
Humans Are The Real Monsters: Averted. Thomas tells Nathan, when all is said and done, "We'd have probably done the same to you, if you'd come 'round our place."
Icarus Allusion: Both book and film openly reference the myth of Icarus, who literally fell to Earth when he flew too close to the sun via wings of feathers and wax. The first section of the novel is titled "Icarus Descending".
Innocent Aliens: Thomas — the central tragedy of the story is his loss of innocence as he lives amongst humans.
Interplay of Sex and Violence: In the scene where Thomas and Mary-Lou have graphic sex while shooting blanks, sometimes at each other, with a revolver.
Irony as She Is Cast: When Mary-Lou takes Thomas to a church service and they join the rest of the congregation in a hymn, he proves to be an off-key singer.
Karma Houdini: Well, the U.S. government is never brought to justice for at least two murders and the torture Thomas is put through. And Nathan not only isn't punished for betraying Thomas, but also marries Mary-Lou and lives happily with her. This doesn't apply to the government in the book, but it doesn't make the ending any happier.
Love Hurts: Especially when you're light-years away from your family and your relationship with your mistress is going sour...
Meaningful Name: Newton, as Roger Ebert noted in his 2011 review (when the film was given a reissue on the arthouse circuit), is "a name with a lot of gravity". Oliver Farnsworth, the patent attorney Newton hires, shares a surname with Philo Farnsworth, who was (to quote Wikipedia) the "Inventor of the first electronic television".
Mega Corp: World Enterprises is a benevolent version of Type 2.
Messianic Archetype: Thomas must leave his homeworld, people, and family to save them, and he suffers greatly on Earth, up to and including betrayal by Nathan Bryce. Thanks in part to the resultant years of captivity and torture his mission fails, leaving him broken, making this probably a subversion of the trope. The Christ parallel is made more explicit in the source novel.
Meta Casting: The casting is not justActor Allusion. Originally Peter O'Toole was cast as Newton, but when that didn't work out, Roeg got the idea to cast David Bowie upon seeing the BBC documentary profile Cracked Actor, which followed the singer on his 1974 U.S. tour, and realizing he had exactly the stranger-in-a-strange-land (namely the U.S.) quality the character needed.
Mind Screw: The film frequently indulges in surreal imagery.
No New Fashions In The Future: Despite the fact that the human characters grow much older, it's all Seventies clothes, technology, etc. In the book, there are changes in fashion — frilly shirts for men, 'off-the-breast' gowns for women — but the world is very much that of its writing, 1963-64.
Non-human Lover Reveal: Gender flipped and deconstructed. When Thomas reveals his true form to Mary-Lou — long after they've consummated their relationship (their lovemaking, it should be noted, requires him to be in his human disguise) — she is horrified and repulsed. Thus, their already-troubled relationship is further damaged.
Old Flame Fizzle: In the final act, Nathan arranges for Mary-Lou to stay with Thomas in his prison suite, hoping it will give him some relief. But in the years since he was imprisoned, she's visibly aged and he hasn't, just another of the differences between them that caused trouble before. While they enjoy a wild sexual tryst together, they no longer love each other, so they break up. A justified, downplayed case.
Pop Star Composer: Some of the score is the work of John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. The original plan was for Bowie to write the score, and he was working on it with Paul Buckmaster, but for various reasons it was not used and — save for a bit of backwards bass that appeared on Low's "Subterraneans" the following year — has never been released to the public.
Promoted to Love Interest: In the book, Thomas has no Earthly lover. Mary-Lou is a younger, Promoted to Love Interest version of the book character Betty Jo, who is middle-aged when she meets him and nurses an unrequited crush on him as one of his few confidantes. Interestingly, her ultimate fate — marrying Nathan — remains the same as in the book.
Reality Subtext: Bowie was addicted to cocaine and other illicit substances at this point in his life, so seeing him play a character who falls under the sway of substance abuse has this trope written all over it. (Indeed, the filmmakers were aware of this.) Perhaps fittingly his albums Station to Station (1976, recorded at the lowest point of his addiction) and Low (1977, the first album of the "Berlin Trilogy" that unfolded as he gradually emerged from it) got their cover art from photos of him here. As well, the look and to a lesser extent personality of his Thin White Duke stage persona for the former album and tour was adapted from his work here.
Reclusive Artist: Newton definitely counts - he rarely goes out in public and leaves the day to day operations of the company to Farnsworth. Justified as he wants to escape detection. ("My life is not secret, but it is private.")
Re Cut: The American theatrical release reordered scenes and cut about twenty minutes, but the current video releases are uncut.
Standard Snippet: The U.K. theatrical trailer used Holst's Mars, Bringer of War (ironic, since Thomas comes in peace).
The Stoic: In the film, Thomas is a quiet soul whose emotionlessness rarely cracks; when it does it is usually when he is frightened and/or in physical pain. He was more emotional in the book, particularly at the end.
They Would Cut You Up: The issue comes up when Thomas is captured. His prison is comfortable, but scientists subject him to scalpels and syringes for years.
Tragic Hero: Thomas, whose naivete about humans and their ways and pastimes is his flaw. (While this trope precludes him from being The Woobie, by the end he certainly warrants a hug.)