Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Man Who Fell to Earth

David Bowie is not unknown to make strange movies. While that doesn't necessarily mean they are poorly made films, it just means they aren't always everyone's cup of tea. So I wasn't expecting anything different from him when watching this, and rightfully so. I will try to summarize it as short as I can: The Man Who Fell to Earth is based on the book of the same name, written by Walter Tevis. It features a man (Newton) from a distant planet (which isn't entirely specified in the film), who is sent to Earth to bring water back to his home, since his planet has run out of it, and they are apparently entirely dependent on it as humans are. Fortunately, Newton has a lot of knowledge of new, useful technologies which have not yet been discovered yet by Earth. He trades this knowledge for money and power, in hopes of being able to somehow get some water back to his dying people. In doing so, Newton is slowly corrupted by his newly-found wealth and fame, and it distracts him from his important mission, the reason he is on Earth in the first place. During his stay, he becomes an alcoholic (arguably) a sex-addict, and even a television addict. Eventually, the government finds out he is an alien, and they kill off his primary business partners, who were his only hope for funding his mission. They then hold him captive for several weeks for "testing", until, they eventually become bored of him and they let him go. After all the time that has passed Newton looks just as young as when he first arrives, and everyone around him is obviously aging and growing old. Despite this, Newton is now broke and alone in the world. Now that his secret is out, his girlfriend left him, his business partners are dead, and his friends have abandoned him. His once superior and valuable knowledge is now irrelevant. His mission eventually becomes a lost cause to him, and he gives up on it entirely.

Of course, the part of Newton is played by David Bowie, and in his first feature role. I still have yet to figure out if his acting abilities are fantastic, or if (at least at the time) they were really poor, and that was the director's divine plan to have Newton realistically portrayed: extremely awkward and unable to relate to or communicate with other humans. Either way, it doesn't really matter; casting Bowie for this role was probably perfect. The paleness, the skinniness, the orange hair; it all strangely blends in very well in contrast with the character. The script however, is a different story. It makes  a big attempt to take a stab at several different themes, from greed and fame, to alcoholism, isolation, love, and several others, but the film ends out being too big and ethical for its own good; it presents all of these problematic themes many deal with every day, but it doesn't make much of an attempt to solve them.  The audience is essentially watching the man become corrupted by things we do or see everyday; things most of us have grown accustomed to. Ultimately, it's a story about a man who had it all and lost it all. The main question that arises however, is who to blame for it; modern culture, for poisoning him with things we take for granted every day? The government, for  wanting him for its own selfish purposes? In the end, no one is to blame but himself, but it can't be argued that no one seemed to help him much; he was being constantly used by everyone, save maybe his new girlfriend. But even she forbade him to go back home, just so she could have him all to herself. He was alone when the mission started and he was alone when it ended. It can't help but make me wonder if we're all doomed to be corrupted and greedy since the day we were born, and we just don't know it because we don't have anyone "pure" to compare ourselves to, such as Newton.

The most memorable scene from the film is probably the last: a drunken Newton stumbles and drops his drink to the floor, and the waiter says "I think perhaps Mr. Newton has had enough, don't you?" and Newton's old acquaintance responds, "I think perhaps, you're right." And in the last shot of the film, Newton bows his head down, looking at the floor, in shame.