Armed with the advanced technology and intellect characteristic of his people, the determinedly pragmatic alien (who goes by the name of Thomas Jerome Newton and carries a British passport) is rendered defenseless by his inability to comprehend the complex and sometimes paradoxical workings of the human soul.
A treatise on everything from alienation, longing, corruption, ambition and hope, The Man Who Fell to Earth is that most intriguing brand of science fiction film: one that recognizes that the advancements of science seem never rise above the limitations of man.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
I really enjoy how The Man Who Fell to Earth plays with the concept of time. The story has the feel and scope of an epic but there is no reference to just how much time has elapsed. Major events unfurl, inventions reorganize lives, yet Bowie's unchanging flawlessness stands in poignant counterpoint to the aging decay of those around him. Roeg's employment of fluid time imbues Tevis' novel with an abstract metaphysical richness that makes this somewhat familiar "fish-out-of-water" tale shimmer with keen human insights and finely-observed perceptions about loneliness and the universal need to connect.
Whether by design or luck, surrounding the relatively stiff and inexpressive Bowie with a team of idiosyncratically naturalistic actors (Rip Torn, Candy Clark, & Buck Henry) evocatively underscores Bowie's inerasable "otherness" as the alien and brings into tragic relief his unending estrangement from those he seeks to understand.
Hands-down the film's best performance is given by Rip Torn as the disillusioned idealist Nathan Bryce, but Candy Clark is the emotional center of the film. As Mary-Lou, a small-town girl lonelier and more isolated than the alien she falls in love with, Clark does some very intelligent things in bringing some dimension to a character who's not-too-bright.
A plea to be seen instead of just being watched
"I don't want her to get lonely."
THE STUFF OF FANTASY
There is just something so right about the conceit that an alien from another planet would look like an orange-haired British pop star. It adds yet another layer of pop cultural awareness to a film that equates human greed, ambition and folly to a preoccupation with surface appearance and an inability to actually see what is right before our eyes.
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a film filled with fluid imagery. Both literally and figuratively. Liquids, in the form of water, alcohol and bodily fluids, are a major visual motif and subtextural theme.
WHAT FUELED MY DREAMS
Having lived for more than 50 years, I've seen my share of technological advancements. Sci-fi movies are inclined to envision the future as some utopian ideal with all our problems solved by technology or as a nightmarish world of "1984" -ish technological enslavement. My experience has been that no matter how advanced the invention, we humans have a way of modifying it to accommodate our basest natures.
The Man Who Fell to Earth doesn't position itself in any easily identified point in time and tells a tale of a savior, of sorts, who comes to earth and yet the most use we have for him is corporate in nature. Money and power rule, and while the corrupt and ambitious move the world along to its inevitable annihilation, people fumble about trying to connect while blind to ever discovering how to do so.
You can keep your "Star Wars" gadget fetishism and your Close Encounters of the Third Kind wish-fulfillment fantasy, I'll take the wistful vision of space travel offered by The Man Who Fell to Earth. A film whose catchline could have been: "In space no one can hear you cry."
"I think maybe Mr. Newton has had enough."
|VOGUE Theater, San Francisco 1976|
Promotional check that entitled the recipient to $1 off towards the purchase of a
"The Man Who Fell To Earth" movie poster
Copyright © Ken Anderson