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!

13 comments:

Eric D. Wilkinson said...

Let's face it... It's a sci-fi movie written by a sci-fi writer. If anyone questions their faith after watching a direct to DVD sci-fi movie, then I would say they were "about a femtometer deep as well".

I produced the flick i I don't nescessarily agree with everything the charachters say, but I felt that any movie that provokes an open, friendly discussion about religion isn't a bad thing.

Thanks for the post and supporting independent film.

Eric D. Wilkinson

evangelical said...

Of course, most people who watch it aren't going to change their views, or lack thereof, about Jesus. So I guess I agree with everything you've said here. I really did enjoy the movie. And I thank you for reading what I had to say about it and briefly responding. That is much appreciated. Finally, keep up the good work on any future movies you're involved with.

Joel Varghese Simon said...

I just saw the film today for the first time and am sure I found a number of assumptions and loop holes myself and am happy at finding such a good blog giving an apologetic's view.. I had to search hard for it though.

I'm glad at the response of Eric Wilkinson too.

I am planning on using this movie at a Church Camp for Case discussion and debate (It is excellent thought provoking material).

Randy Limbird said...

I just finished watching the movie on Netflix and then found this blog posting.

I agree with your comments -- they are very thoughtful.

As much as I also found Oldman's depiction of Jesus absurd, there was an undercurrent that I found faith affirming.

I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to sit in an upper room and hear someone say, "Before Abraham was born, I am!"

Can you imagine our reaction to hearing someone say he was in the beginning with God and all things were created through him?

We would be no less incredulous than those sitting on the floor in Oldman's living room.

really said...

I dont understand how Christians could enjoy this movie...the protagonist claimed Christianity was an intentional fraud, created to manipulate and control. The dominant, sympathetically portrayed characters (eg the Jewish biologist whose motto was "live & let live" and who spoke against the Christian woman's objections) were very warm to the main character's "expose" of Christianity as a lie. The film affirmed faith in humanistic ideas, like and universal brotherhood & peace, claiming (again through the favorable characters) that these ideas have been undermined and highjacked by Christianity.

"The Man From Earth" does not provoke a discussion about religion; it provokes discussion specifically against Christianity. Buddha is portrayed as an extremely positive figure and friend of the protagonist, and non-Christian belief systems are portrayed flatteringly. Its not necessary to speculate on any agenda of the film makers, because the story speaks for itself. Its interesting that the film's writer, Jerome Bixby, wrote for the original Star Trek series. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was an anti-Christian atheist who incorporated such views into some Star Trek episodes in order to popularize them.

Anti-Christian writers frequently use fiction to try and influence viewers to adopt anti- Christian thinking. A powerful form of propaganda is known as "philosopical fiction", where a dialogue between fictional characters is used to subtly introduce and prove a particular view while undermining another ("The Man From Earth" could be considered a perfect example, whether the filmakers intended this or not). Ironically, fiction propaganda is so effective in influencing viewer thinking because its power is often underestimated; since fiction is "not true" and "just fantasy," its often taken less seriously and thoughtfully than non-fiction. As a result, ideas communicated to viewers through fiction, and the effects of these ideas on their emotions and underlying assumptions and beliefs, are not as carefully challenged and examined as they might be if the viewer was watching a non-fiction documentary. Creators of propaganda (from all viewpoints) have always understood this fact & have used it to their advantage. Christians are called to be "as wise as serpents" on such issues.

Writers, public relations experts, and propagandists understand that the key to changing people's thinking is not by attempting to outright change their beliefs, but by influencing them emotionally. Sympathetically portraying characters with an anti-Christian viewpoint, and getting viewers to emotionally connect with such characters, has long proven to be an effective way to get viewers to be more sympathetic toward and tolerant of anti-Christian thinking, on both a conscious & unconscious level.

There was a comment about showing this movie to Christian youth groups. I hope Christians realize that its not people who are secure in their relationship with Christ that are most hurt by movies like this. Its often impressionable (especially young) Christians, who in turmoil dont feel a strong supernatural presence of Jesus in their emotional & spiritual lives, and so might be influenced by sophistic and pseudo-historical arguments like the ones in this movie. If someone actually wants to show this film to young people, I hope they first explain the anti-Christian viewpoint of the film, the bias of the story's author, and exactly why the anti-Christian ideas in this film are wrong.

really said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Varghese Simon said...

responding to "Really": Seems like you are having a tough time with the movie and my comment.

The movie as I wrote, is riddled with loopholes and every discerning Christian will seek it out with God given wisdom.

I never mentioned it being tested on the young minds and hearts of impressionable believers. I always see opportunity to challenge the armor of the brethren and and make sure that we are battle ready at all times against any philosophy or so described logic that are half truths.

The moment we close our minds to this changing world and the people who live by its logic we are losing an opportunity to evangelize them and to speak their language.In fact, the movie was well received and debated upon.

:)

timbudtwo said...

I myself have looked up the information about the 10 commandments coming from hammurabi's code, which themselves came from ur-nammu code. But you suggest that the 10 commandments being directly derived from hammurabis code as no big deal. Can you elaborate on your reasoning?

Thanks!

PC said...

I am totally uncomfortable with this movie right now.
I was in college when I watched this movie the first time. Now I am just about to start my Christan faith but somehow this movie reflects back and bugs me.

Titanium Pen said...

I enjoyed the movie, especially the very last part. It just shows that people are always glad to immerse themselves in an explained world, rather than face the fact that the explanations have no foundation at all.

I see that you've put some effort in writing your review. You're criticizing the flaws of the movie in terms of historical accuracy, but some of your evidence is entirely based on the Bible, in which you believe in. It's not really neutral.

NotASamurai said...

I agree this is an anti-Christian propaganda film as much as I agree that Bible is Christian propaganda literature. I don't get why people think Bible is a reliable historical source? Gosh! Have you read the stuff written inside? It's funny I wrote "Gosh" lulz

Stephen Austin said...

It's interesting to listen to the complaints of 'propaganda' and 'misinterpretation' when almost daily we can see new research that casts new light on who really wrote parts of the bible. Anyway, here' something else that might ruffle feathers.
http://www.patrick-tilley.com/mission/index.php

Stephen Austin said...

Oops,
Nearly forgot. Sorry.
http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/11-08-24/