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Film / The Man from Earth

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What if a man from the Upper Paleolithic survived until the present day?

The Man from Earth is a 2007 dialogue-driven Science Fiction Drama film about a group of college professors and a grad student sitting together in a cabin during the going-away party of their colleague. They discuss the plausibility of their departing friend's story: that he has witnessed thousands of years of human progress first-hand since the Cro-Magnon Era.

The professor, who calls himself John Oldman, reveals that he's secretly 14,000 years old and a former caveman. The movie revolves around the characters dissecting John's claims about him being that old, and especially historical happenings he claims to have witnessed and people he claims to have met or even been. To make it all the more interesting, every character is a teacher at a certain subject that sooner or later is relevant or brought up (there's an archaeologist, a psychologist, a biologist, historian and a Christian theologian/literalist), and everyone deals with each new part of the story from John in different ways.

The film proved surprisingly popular on torrent sites, helping it receive more attention than an indie film of its budget normally would, which caused director Richard Schenkman no small amount of glee. As a result of its popularity, it received a sequel called The Man from Earth: Holocene, which was released directly to torrent sites for legal download in 2018.

Not to be confused with The Man Who Fell to Earth or The Last Man on Earth.

Tropes used in this film:

  • Abstract Eater: The possibility of it is discussed. John mentions that when he stopped aging his tribe came to believe that he was “stealing” their lives and soon chased him out.
  • Actor Allusion: The phrase "believe it or not" appears more than once, referencing the theme song to "The Greatest American Hero", the tv show where Art's actor William Katt was the lead.
  • Actually Not a Vampire: When John stopped aging, his tribe began to believe he was stealing their life-force, thus necessitating his need to move on every ten years to avoid arousing suspicion and hostility. Harry jokingly theorizes that John may have been the pre-historic origin of the vampire myth.
  • The Ageless: John is not immune to illness, but since he survived so long and recovered from any injury (he doesn't scar) and illness, he seems to be truly ageless.
  • Agent Mulder: Dan, the anthropologist, is the first one of the professors ready to accept John's story, mostly because there's no way to prove nor disprove it and he's all ready for a thought experiment. Later, he grows even more enthusiastic. Needless to say, he's pretty pissed off when John "reveals" he was just making things up.
  • Author Filibuster: John lapses into his thoughts on religion in a monologue what can only be interpreted as the author explaining his own beliefs. John describes the Old Testament as full of fear and hatred, while the New Testament is full of love and peace, though it's been warped over the years by centuries of mythology and superstition. John speaks very highly of Buddhism and explains that everything that's good in Christianity is just Buddhism.
  • Been There, Shaped History: John was Jesus, even though it's all pretty much a big misunderstanding. He also mentions that he knew the caveman that drew the cave paintings at Les Eyzies, discussed capturing nature in art with Van Gogh, studied under the Buddha until his death, and claims to have had the opportunity to sail with Christopher Columbus. But John also mentions that aside from those, it'd be incredibly difficult for him to know many historical people, as he is just one man in one place at any given time.
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Played straight and inverted. John, a (at the time) 12,000 year-old man was Jesus. However, all he was doing was spreading the teachings of the Buddha, under whom he had studied 500 years earlier.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Edith the art professor is a devoutly religious woman who constantly objects to anyone saying something contrary to her beliefs. She's remarkably unable to mount any real defense of Christianity or explain any of its tenets, even when John claims that it's just repackaged Buddhism.
  • Born-Again Immortality: Harry speculates about this; however John claims he is The Ageless.
  • Bottle Episode: The entire movie takes place in and around John’s cabin.
  • Break the Haughty: Edith is one of the most snide and dismissive of John, but practically suffers a breakdown at the claims that John is Jesus, but it was all a misunderstanding and it shatters her worldview.
  • Campfire Character Exploration: This is essentially the second half of the movie, John continues telling his story and answering everyone’s questions while they are gathered around his fireplace.
  • Complete Immortality: The other start to believe that this is what John is claiming to be, especially after he tells them that he doesn't scar, but he then clarifies that he has never claimed to be immortal, just long-lived and acknowledges that he very well could die since he obviously doesn't know the source of his condition.
  • Compound-Interest Time Travel Gambit: When John says he has money saved, Harry jokingly asks if he got it thanks to this trope.
  • Contemporary Caveman: Subverted, as he blends in perfectly, out of necessity. He's lived through all the advances of society and technology and assimilates as they change.
  • Conversed Trope: The backbone of the entire movie.
  • Demythification: While the movie has one possibly supernatural element on which the whole story is based, the way it explains the myth of Jesus is quite realistic. John's immortality is given a highly speculative natural explanation. The characters themselves discuss whether it would be scientifically plausible for a man to stop aging and live indefinitely. They conclude that it's theoretically possible, if highly unlikely.
  • The Drifter: John says he moves on every ten years when people start to notice that he doesn't appear to age.
  • End of an Era: The film sees John in the process of moving on after ten years of living under the name “Oldman”.
  • Exposition of Immortality: This film is essentially, entirely about this trope. It consists of an immortal character telling people all about the things he's done, seen, and experienced down the ages and their reactions to it. Oldman even lampshades this with his comment about people hanging onto objects from thousands of years ago being "absurd."
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The entire movie takes place over the course of one afternoon. Ironic given the subject matter.
  • Fire of Comfort: John has one in his cabin, he says that it provides a feeling of security from his time as a caveman.
  • The Fog of Ages: John remembers "the ups and downs and traumas" and has forgotten most of his ancient life, including his native language (with one exception). He also mentions that he uses archaeology to try to understand aspects of his life that he's forgotten over time or to clarify why certain events he was a witness to happened as they did.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Gruber repeatedly remarks about his old age and how cold he felt. Altogether with the revelation that his wife had just recently passed on, this is a hint to the audience that he too will pass on.
    • Gruber also mentions that he barely remembers his own father after John denies remembering his.
    • At one point the others muse about the possibility that one of them could be John's direct descendant.
  • God Test: Most of the story is built upon his friends' attempts to give him one of these, which he explains that he cannot (or simply will not) do. Then he tells them that the whole story was only a story, and they go on their way. He accidentally reveals himself to be Gruber's father at the end, thereby completing the God Test only for Gruber and Sandy, nearby. Dan's belief is unknown, but he is last shown in a contemplative mood, after an ambulance speeds past him towards the house.
    • Though they miss one possibility in that John claims to have slowed his body functions to appear dead when he was crucified. They could have asked he demonstrate this. John refuses to go to Harry's lab for good reason, but there's no obvious danger in him demonstrating this.
  • Historical In-Joke: John's story about being Jesus but it all being a misunderstanding fits in with an idea that's popped up several times across history. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, famously did a Fan Edit of the Gospels removing the supernatural elements and isolating the teachings he thought were from the real man.
  • Hollywood Law: Will repeatedly threatens to have John involuntarily committed for a psychiatric evaluation if he doesn't admit he's making the whole story up. He'd have a lot of trouble convincing a judge to sign an order for involuntary commitment based on being told a story he doesn't like. John hasn't threatened anyone, committed any acts of violence, displayed any symptoms of mental illness, he isn't Will's patient, and Will doesn't have any valid reason for having John committed. All John would have to do is look at the judge and say it was just a story, and it probably wouldn't even get to that point. Basically, Will was either bluffing to try to force John to say something (likely counting on John not knowing the law well enough to call his bluff), or is being an asshole.
  • Humble Hero: Despite being immortal John doesn’t think he is superior to other humans, is mild-mannered, happy to laugh at himself and make self-deprecating jokes, and isn’t comfortable with the idea of being worshiped.
  • I Have Many Names: John naturally varied his name throughout history. Still, it's often been something similar to John. A lot of the surnames he has used were punny names.
  • Immortal Genius: Subverted: John Oldman has lived for over twelve thousand years and spent a good deal of that time learning as much about the world as he could, even earning ten doctorates. However, he realistically can't keep up with the latest developments in every single possible field, especially since he has to move on every few years so that nobody notices that he doesn't age, and as such most of his degrees are out of date by now. Plus, his mind isn't any different from that of an ordinary human, so he can't remember literally everything he's experienced, only the highs and lows - he mentions at one point that he studied archeology/anthropology in part to fill in the blanks of his knowledge or help him better understand some events that happened around him.
  • Immortality Immorality: Discussed, and averted. John was taught directly by the Buddha, who sensed something special about him, and later John brought the Buddha's teachings to Israel, where it was warped into what is now the New Testament. John reports being very disappointed with how nobody in modern times applies the main lesson.
  • Inconspicuous Immortal: John began life as a simple hunter-gatherer in the upper Paleolithic and has preferred to remain under the radar ever since, taking relatively unspectacular jobs, avoiding fame, and vanishing into the undergrowth whenever his inability to age becomes impossible to ignore. His latest career is that of a simple college professor, and even as apparently the youngest man on the faculty, he prefers to let his more flamboyant colleagues take the spotlight. As such, the drama kicks off when, just before leaving his current life, he decides to confess everything to them. He also reluctantly admits that the one time he became famous was when he tried to bring Buddhism to the Middle East and accidentally became Jesus in the process. As far as he's concerned, that didn't end well.
  • Life of the Party: Harry is a lively, somewhat goofy young-at-heart professor whose initially encouraging the others to have fun and occasionally interjects jokes and wisecracks into John's story.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: John may get bored on occasion or regret losing people, but he seems content with life and has no interest in death.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: John offhandedly mentions the surname he was using 60+ years ago in front of Gruber, who recognizes it as his father's surname. John then confirms Gruber's mother's name and the name of the dog Gruber had during childhood.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The characters speculate different theories to explain how John could be immortal from the supernatural to science-fiction, but no explanation is ever settled on. The closest to an accepted explanation is Will’s theory that an immortal human would have a quirk in their biology that allows for perfect regeneration of the body's cells, which would explain why John doesn’t have any scars.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Discussed. John tells Sandy that he feels fondness and attraction to her, but he's gotten over love too many times. He could only promise 10 years, his habitual "moving on" time-frame. He moved on from Gruber's mother 60 years ago, who maintained that John abandoned them.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Both Linda and Sandy might apply. However they do both contribute to the discussion and are more than just eye candy.
  • Napoleon Delusion: Gruber compares John's belief he is immortal to this trope.
  • No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: Averted, sort of. John was Jesus, but he was actually just a normal preacher (of Buddhism) and has no miraculous powers beyond not aging, and being able to survive crucifixion by playing dead until everyone left.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Mostly averted. In his long lifetime, John has acquired ten advanced degrees, but he's still just a person of normal intelligence and abilities. He can't realistically keep up with the advances in that many fields, so his old degrees don't mean very much now.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: It is discussed and speculated that John may be the prehistoric origin of the vampire myth.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Gruber turns out to be John's son from decades past, and dies of a heart attack at the shock of it. It's implied that this has happened before in John's past since his children don't share in this immortality. Why he keeps having children if he'll just abandon them to avoid being discovered and then outlive them is anyone's guess. It seems hugely traumatic on them all.
  • Parental Abandonment: Discussed by the psychologist Gruber as a possible cause of emptiness in John's life. The end of the movie reveals that John himself was forced to leave a young Gruber and his mother.
  • Plot Tumor: Once religion comes into the discussion all the other aspects of how John has lived so long, his experiences, etc., get crowded out of the plot. This is Lampshaded by John himself who tries to stop the conversation, saying he didn't want it to go in that direction.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Harry, the most cheerful of the group, who is constantly making quippy remarks and jokes even while he shows open-mindedness and considers John's story.
  • Punny Name: John Oldman. Lampshaded. It's not the only Punny Name John has given himself, either. He's been John Paley (as in Paleolithic era), John Savage, and when he was working at Boston University, he was John T. Partee. Which is the name he had when he was Gruber's father.
  • Really 700 Years Old: John never physically aged beyond around 35, but he's been alive for roughly 14,000 years.
  • Religion Is Wrong: John explains how he tried to teach the Buddha’s teachings in a modern form during the time of the Roman Empire and his teachings were twisted by the church in order to control people (with some fairytales mixed in). This gets an angered response from Edith who is a Christian literalist.
    John: I see ceremony, ritual, processions, genuflecting, moaning, intoning, venerating cookies and wine. And I's not what I had in mind.
  • Screen-to-Stage Adaptation: Director Richard Shenkman adapted Jerome Bixby's screenplay into a stage play in 2008, which is fairly popular among regional theatre companies.
  • Seen It All: In a limited sense. Being in only one place at any given time and having to keep a small identity means John couldn't meet too many historical figures. But he did meet Van Gogh, Beethoven, Columbus, the Buddha, and some others, and survived through the Black Plague. He was also the inspiration for Jesus.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The whole film strongly resembles the conversation from H. G. Wells' The Time Machine. It's quite fitting.
    • When Harry suggests John take lab tests:
      John: I'm leery of labs. Afraid I might go in and stay for a thousand years while cigarette-smoking men try to figure me out.
    • Dan saying he's going home to watch some Star Trek to restore his sanity is a reference either to actor Tony Todd's frequent roles on the show, and/or writer Jerome Bixby's writing of several well-regarded episodes, including "Requiem for Methuselah," which was about an immortal human. John Billingsley's co-starring role on Star Trek: Enterprise might also be relevant.
      • The actor Richard Riehle likewise appeared on a couple of Voyager episodes.
      • David Lee Smith, John himself, appeared on a Voyager episode.
  • Speech-Centric Work: The entire movie is a group of professors and a student, sitting in a wooden cabin, discussing their colleague's claim to be an immortal, 14,000-year-old caveman.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • When asked where he was originally from, John says he doesn't really know and points out that few people even remember their own (comparatively) recent childhood, and that back then there were no maps or borders, and 14,000 years is plenty of time for rivers and landmarks to change drastically.
    • When questioned about mastering every possible skill and knowledge field, John reveals that while he has more degrees than most people could realistically attain in a lifetime, they are all rendered moot due to the passage of time, as science and development march on and he can't keep up with the advances in all the different fields he has studied at one point or another. In addition, John is a man with normal intelligence and abilities so there's only a finite amount of things he can remember, and thus he has forgotten a large part of his own past.
    • In most stories with an ancient immortal, or really any immortal, the immortal character will have been present at all sorts of historical events and have known a plethora of famous people. While John was present at a few major historical moments and met a few people who are still well known today, he realistically couldn't be present at all of them as he was just one man in one place at one time. He didn't magically teleport to every major point in history or meet every famous historical figure.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Art comes to the meeting with a student named Linda, and while they're not explicitly said to be a couple, it is strongly implied and they definitely give off a non-Platonic vibe.
  • There Is Another: John thinks that he might have met another person who was immortal although he couldn’t know for sure at the time. John connected with him for a while in the 16th Century, and believes he might have seen the other immortal in a train station in Brussels two hundred years later, but lost him in a crowd.
  • Time Abyss: Early in the film John claims to be a 14,000-year-old caveman, and most of the rest of the story consists of the people he said that to trying to prove whether it's true or not. His story is true, although the audience only gets the proof after most of the other characters have left.
  • Time Dissonance: When Gruber asks John what time means to him John describes the meeting of people as like ripples in a wheat field blown by the wind.
  • Time Travel: John has been alive 14,000 years and has lived through every period of human history. So technically he has traveled through time from the Cro-Magnon Era to the 21st century, he just had to do it the old-fashioned way.
    • This is even lampshaded by Dan who says that John is a man who lives outside of time as we currently understand it.
  • Undead Tax Exemption: Averted. When villages and city-states emerged, moving around became more difficult. He spent a year incarcerated in Belgium for forging government documents.
  • Unreliable Narrator: John starts out with the disclaimer that he is just pitching this for a science fiction novel. The group slowly learns to trust him, then all suspension of disbelief is shattered when he's pushed into revealing it was a hoax. In the end, though, John's story is confirmed.
  • Unwanted False Faith: John didn't intend to be seen as a miracle man, born of a virgin, the son of God. Various legends were falsely attributed to him, as was the tendency of the time.
    • Even more so in the sequel. When four students discover that John (who is now living under the name surname Young) is immortal, they believe that he is Jesus and want him to preach “The Word”, despite John explaining that he is neither the son of god nor is he looking to be worshipped.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Early in the movie, Linda tells John she doesn't understand why he can't remember where he's from. He asks her about where she lived when she was a child and if it would be the same if she went back there today: she answered it would be all different and built up.
    John: Thus the saying "You can't go home again". Because it isn't there anymore.


Video Example(s):


John Oldman

In the Science-Fiction Drama "The Man From Earth" a group of professors gather for a going away party at the cabin of their friend John Oldman. During the party Oldman then makes an extraordinary claim, that he is actually a fourteen thousand year old former caveman.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / ReallySevenHundredYearsOld

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