Posted on November 18 at 20.54, 2007 by The occasional blogger
What do Michael Clayton (07) and The Man from Earth, two very different films which I watched this week, have in common?
They are both respectable and honourable efforts with dreadful endings. They both deal with beautiful shades of grey that sadly bend and dissolve under the pressure of the all-too easy and ever so reassuring black and white. They speak of ambiguity, uncertainty and ambivalence, but can only snap back, or break, like a rubber band that has been stretched too far, to the comfort and familiarity of the expected.
The Man from Earth is one of those talking films that relies on one location only, in this case a living room, the type of film that seems to be taken straight out of the world of Theatre. Such films need to be adroitly directed and require a very tight script to keep an audience thatâ€™s been trained to expect something else from the film medium, from feeling boredom. I remember being bored to tears once watching the arrogant and tedious, one-room only, Friendshipâ€™s Death (87). But The Man from Earth, about a man explaining to his friends that he must move away and leave them because he is 14,000 years old and does not want to see them age (and does not want to attract unwelcome curiosity), is much closer to 12 Angry Men (57), or even the more recent Primer (04), and moves at a good enough pace to keep us interested in the possibilities that the discussion raises. Like the characters in the film, the friends who do not know if they should send this man they have known for 10 years to the asylum (perhaps to hang out with that guy from K-Pax) or if they should believe him, but who at the same time canâ€™t stop themselves from asking him more questions, we find ourselves wanting to hear more of their questions and more of his answers. As mad and implausible as his revelations may sound, the screenplay, completed by Sci-Fi short story writer Jerome Bixby shortly before his death in 1998, is so smartly written and laced with so much sharp and plausible dialogue that one begins to think: why not?
Sadly, as mentioned earlier, this nicely challenging and entertaining low budget film falls apart at the end, closing with two scenes that are simply too sweet, convenient and that seem to exist for no other purpose than to raise the audienceâ€™s feel good factorâ€¦