Open Ended Stories, Religion, and The Man from Earth Review

Posted on Posted in Academics, Movies, Reviews/Commentary, Theology

I like a good Biblical slant to a story. Certainly one of the reasons that I adored “Lost” was how it hinted at Old Testament stories, such as Cain and Abel.

By the same token, my tastes have not really gravitated to fiction that significantly contradicts or seeks to undermine Biblical claims. I prefer to see fiction work within or around the Biblical stories rather than coming up with out-of-the-box ways to prove them false. I suppose it is a matter of taste, or, more importantly, faith. At the very least, it can add a compelling depth to fiction.

With that in mind, I watched “The Man from Earth” a couple of years back and it left me with mixed feelings. I applaud the low budget, one-location nature of it and it has a compelling, bootstrapped production story. Its writer, Jerome Bixby, had quite a run in the 1960s, writing both some memorable “Twilight Zones” and the classic “Mirror, Mirror” episode of “Star Trek.” He also did “Fantastic Voyage.”

There were some really interesting ideas in the story and I do like that they represented a spectrum of beliefs in the film, with appropriate reactions at the main character’s claims. The one thing that I’d have changed about it would have been to leave it more open ended. I felt like the ending really gave up the mystery and chose a definitive answer for the audience; in contrast, I like to leave those sorts of things open ended. While some feel that leaving an ending open is a cop-out, I don’t think you’re satisfying a broad enough audience for this type of a story if you choose one side or the other, as they did in this case. I want people debating and thoughtfully thinking about my story – and, yes, it could be argued that the story could still have a sliver of open ended-ness to it, but I just didn’t feel that way while watching it.

The film’s post-production history is also interesting in that the producers actually thanked file sharing users for illegally sharing the film. Apparently the positive ‘buzz’ from their actions lifted the film’s profile to a much-higher-than-expected level.

As I said, I’d keep Biblical allusions vague in a story of my own, much like “Lost” did, if I going to dig into the stories inside the Bible. A friend and I spoke a while back about the fickle nature of trying to please the Christian market. Obviously that tactic can be very success if done right, but it can also be filled with peril. By that token, it seems like you either need to be vague or be very precise. Nothing in the middle.  Similar rules would seem to apply to other films with roots in religious beliefs.

Say what one will about Mel Gibson and his ability to live out Christian teachings, but “Passion of the Christ” was quite faithful to the Biblical accounts and its box office success was directly tied to that fact. In comparison, take a film such as “Last Temptation of Christ.” While viewing that film a few years ago, I remember being surprised that Jesus was already on the cross with an hour left to go in the film. What were they going to do to fill the second hour? I don’t recall all of the details of that film, but how they filled that time relied heavily on fantasy speculation that was bold and provocative, but ultimately trouble at the box office.

 


Cuse, Carlton, and Damon Lindelof. Lost: The Complete Sixth and Final Season. ABC Studios, 2010. Film.
Daniels, Marc. “Mirror, Mirror.” Star Trek. Television.
Dante, Joe, and John Landis. Twilight Zone: The Movie. 1983. Film.
Fleischer, Richard. Fantastic Voyage. 1966. Film.
Gibson, Mel. The Passion of the Christ. 2004. Film.
Schenkman, Richard. The Man from Earth. 2007. Film.
Scorsese, Martin. The Last Temptation of Christ. 1988. Film.
Sheldon, James. “It’s a Good Life.” Twilight Zone. CBS, 1961. Television.

 

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