The Man from Earth is a 2007 film about a group of college professors and a grad student sitting together in a cabin during an intimate going-away party. They contemplate the plausibility of their departing professor friend's story: witnessing thousands of years of human progress first-hand.
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, a Christian theologian/literalist and a few more), and everyone deals with each new part of the story from John in different ways.
One of the most down-to-earth depictions of a seemingly immortal man in movie history.
The movie hit it big on BitTorrent sites in early November 2007. The producer squealed with glee. This reaction was one of the earliest admissions by a film director or film producer that illegal downloads can be good for getting the word out for a work.
Pretty much every trope related to perceived immortality is brought up and discussed. It's very interesting for anyone that ever thought about immortality to watch. Do note though, that the movie is dialogue and nothing else. There's only one set, a bunch of characters and their interactions. And a marvelous script.
A sequel called The Man from Earth: Holocene was announced in May of 2016. It was given limited showings in 2017.
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 eating their life and soon chased him out.
- 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. 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.
- Been There, Shaped History: John is Jesus, even though it's all pretty much a big misunderstanding. He also met Van Gogh and Buddha, 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, whom he had studied under 500 years earlier.
- Born-Again Immortality: Harry speculates about this; however John indicates he is The Ageless.
- 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.
- The Drifter: John says he moves on every ten years when people start to notice that he doesn't appear to age.
- 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 one day. Ironic given the subject matter.
- The Fog of Ages: John remembers "the ups and downs and traumas" and has forgotten most of his ancient life, including his native language. 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 witness to happened as they did.
- 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 ways. 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.
- 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, John isn't his patient, and he 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 is an asshole.
- I Have Many Names: John naturally varied his name throughout history. Still, it's always been something similar to John. A lot of the surnames were punny names.
- 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.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: John may get bored on occasion, but he seems content with life.
- Luke, I Am Your Father: John, unwittingly mentioning his 60-years-ago name in front of Gruber, who recognizes him as his father. He then confirms Gruber's mother's name and dog's name.
- MayflyDecember 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.
- 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 with his regenerative abilities.
- 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.
- 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 abandoned him 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. Lampshaded when John tries to stop the conversation, saying he didn't want it to go in that direction.
- 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. The last of which is the name he had when he was Gruber's father.
- Reality Ensues:
- 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 marches 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, there's only a finite amount of things he can remember, and thus he has forgotten a large part of his own past.
- While John was present at some major historical moments, 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 person.
- Really 700 Years Old: John never aged beyond 35 or so.
- 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 lived through the Black Plague.
- 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.
- Speech-Centric Work
- There Is Another: John thinks that there have might have been another person who was immortal. He connected with him for a while in the 16th Century, and might have seen him out of the corner of his eye in a train station two hundred years later.
- Time Abyss: John claims to be a 14000 years old caveman. His story is proven true.
- Time Dissonance: John describes the meeting of people as like ripples in a wheat field blown by the wind.
- 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.
- 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 asked 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.