Saturday, April 18, 2009

Review of The Man from Earth

I recently had the opportunity's to rent my first movie from one of those dvd vending machines they have. It was a neat little flick called "The Man From Earth". It was a small, low-budget, independent film. I was therefor surprised to see so many famous people in it. Perhaps 'famous' isn't the right term for many of the actors had faces immediately recognisable but, whose names one has never known.

Like all good science fiction, it raised interesting philosophical questions. And the plot-line was intriguing. It was about a man, talking to his university colleagues. He claims that he is a cave man, still living 14,000 years later. He is a bit like Socrates in that his great wisdom, from long life, is that he does not know very much. I do not think I like the answers he has come up with, but, at least he, or the movie itself, is asking the right questions.

As one might imagine, one of the main subjects examined is that of religion. Eventually it comes out that Dr. John Oldman, as the cave man is currently calling himself, was the historical Jesus. And this is the main complaint I have with the movie. Let me explain.

John went to study with the Buddha. Then he came to Palestine to teach Buddhism there. A great deal of legend immediately grew up around him. Particularly after he revived from his crucifixion. Like Wolverine, John had remarkable powers of healing and, during his crucifixion, he explained, he was merely tied to a cross.

There is so much wrong, apologetically, with the movie at this point. I know, I know, it is only fiction. However, the claims made can be taken in a certain sense as alleged historical fact. Fact which would be devastating to the religion which bases itself firmly in objective history. If, that is, it were true. As a matter of fact, much of what is claimed for the historical Jesus in the movie has been claimed for a long time by various skeptics in the real world. Most recently it appeared in 'Zeitgeist' and 'Religulous'.

One of the claims is that the Christ of faith is nothing like the Jesus of history. Older Pagan mythology, it is said, was regurgitated by the early Christians. First of all, there was not enough time for myth to develop between the events of the Gospels and their writing. Second, despite what some people might try and tell you, the Gospels do not bear the marks of mythology. Third, what Jesus has in common with Hercules-as claimed in the movie-is a complete mystery. Hercules was half-man and half-god whereas Jesus was fully God and fully man. Also, God did not have sexual intercourse with the then virgin Mary (which woul be logically impossible) as Zeus had when he sired Hercules.

The parallelomania that is the history of religions school, as I believe it is called, I thought had died out years ago. I am always surprised when I see it keep popping up.

Another problem was that John (who was Jesus, remember) says he never claimed to be God. The Bible, which is generally regarded as generally reliable history, records Him as saying that He was God. The claims that the biblical Jesus made to divinity were implicit, but unmistakable. Who can forgive sins but God alone, the would-be stoners of the biblical Jesus once asked. I and the Father are one, Jesus said. It is common knowledge that Jesus died, according to the Bible, for blasphemy. Blasphemy is when a mere man claims to be God. Textual critics have reconstructed the autographs and, even here, we see Jesus implicitly claiming to be God.

And then, I do not like how religious persons are portrayed in the film. This woman, who claims she doesn't even believe John, is a complete shambles when she hears what Jesus was really like. I guess her faith was about a femtometer deep (like the Roman Catholic's in the remake of 'Flight of the Phoenix' who merely served as subtle propaganda smuggled in where nobody would notice). She is at one point referred to as a "Christian literalist".

Nothing boils my blood more than the L-word. It is kind of like the F-word, fundamentalist, in that it is never used in its correct sense. A literal interpretation of the Bible, traditionally speaking, is to take the words in their plain meaning. Is it not plain that "shadow of His wings" is metaphorical? Indeed it is. So "literal" and "metaphorical" are not mutually exclusive, when the terms are properly understood. What the critic apparently means by "literal" is something like, "you uneducated fool! You ignore science and think the earth is only 6,000 years old. You are so unenlightened unlike liberal Protestants and total unbelievers."

When the circle of friends is deliberating on whether to accept John's story or not, the biologist, psychiatrist, and archaeologist all get to way in on plausibility (of John's story) but the "Christian literalist" is scoffed at when appealing to her Bible scholars.

And then the Bible itself is mischaracterised. A distinction is made between the wrathful Old Testament God and the loving New Testament God which would make any Gnostic blush. If memory serves, the Bible is also portrayed in the film as being hopelessly contradictory. The genetic fallacy is committed when the Decalogue is said to derive from Hammurabi's code as if that were a bad thing.

Now, apart from the whole anti-Christian propaganda, the film was not without its flaws. But on the whole, I liked the movie. The main body of which was an extended philosophical discussion. It is rare to watch a movie which consists of just people sitting around a room talking philosophically for 90 minutes. For that reason alone, I think the movie was good. There were no cheesy special fx to take away from the dialogue either. So it was an interesting movie to watch, entertaining, and it made you think. I couldn't help coming away with the feeling that Jerome Bixby was totally out to lunch, but I give him an A for effort. I whole-heartedly recommend the movie to discerning viewers everywhere!