The Man From Earth is an independent, no-budget science fiction film released in 2007 about a university professor named John who reveals to his friends at a going-away party that he is really fourteen thousand years old. The film’s entire running time consists of a conversation between John and his academic friends, each of them asking questions and using their specialisations to try to shore up or debunk his story. It’s a very thought-provoking film and gets a lot of mileage out of its very unassuming setting and cast. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it now1 instead of reading this, which is a review of its sequel.
The other day, I discovered that a follow-up to The Man From Earth was released in 2017. Subtitled Holocene, this second film is about what happens when John discovers that he is starting to age. Which is the kind of story you have to go with when you bring the same actor back to reprise their role as an immortal, ageless caveman ten years later. Maybe they should have hired Keanu Reeves.
A sequel to a beloved film, especially one released many years later, is often a poisoned chalice. You go into it excited to see characters you like continue a story you enjoyed, but in the end – and this is especially true for stories that were sublimely complete in the first place – you feel as though what you’ve just witnessed somehow decreased the quality of the original. This isn’t the case for all sequels, but it certainly is for Holocene.
The film begins with John coming near to the end of the new life he must have started shortly after the end of the original (he only stays in the same place for ten years at a time – any longer and people start to notice that he doesn’t age). But this time, something is different – John’s hair is greying conspicuously, and he finds he’s no longer as strong or as quick to heal as he’s always been before. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on this or its implications.
Instead, most of the running time focuses on the other members of the main cast, a group of four students in John’s comparative religion class. They’re all deeply fascinated by him and, through the discovery of a book written by Art (the skeptic from the first movie), come to discover his secret. Each of them has a different reaction to this discovery, but these are not given equal development or thought, and the ones the film chooses to explore are either uninteresting or simply retreads of ground covered in the first film, just with more violence and melodrama.
The best parts of Holocene are the conversations John has with other characters, but unlike the first film, these conversations don’t take up the full running time. Instead, we spend the bulke of the movie following the hijinx of the four college students, whose characters are various shades of annoying. And the sheer amount of time they spend talking about how great they think John is gives the movie the icky feeling of bad fanfiction.
Moment to moment, the film managed to hold my interest, and the final act is quite tense, but to no great end. The film ends on a melancholic but hopeful note, with John reconnecting with an old friend. A theory is put forward about his sudden aging, but is neither confirmed nor denied. Watching the credits roll, I had the strong feeling I’d just wasted the last couple hours of my life.
And then there came the post-credits scene. If Holocene spits on The Man From Earth’s grave, the post-credits scene desecrates it with a lead-in to a proposed television show (!) that misses the magic of the original film even more aggressively than this sequel did. In fairness, I may have misread the intended direction of the series from this very brief teaser, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth all the same.
To cleanse my palette of that bitter taste, I went and watched the original Man From Earth again. And it’s still just as good as I remember.
The producer of the film has gone on record as supporting its distribution via torrent sites, to the point of this sequel being officially released on The Pirate Bay. So you know where to look. ;) ↩︎