Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth
Humans always seem to end up fighting aliens in the movies. If they attack us we naturally fight back. If they come in peace we want to imprison them and in some cases take them apart to learn more. In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, we have an alien that comes to Earth not to meet us or bring war upon us but simply for our water.
Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) appears in New Mexico out of nowhere at the start of the film. He sells his ring and heads for the city to meet with Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry), an attorney with knowledge of patents. Newton hands him a cluster of patents which the attorney is stunned with and assures Newton they are worth millions. Newton soon forms World Enterprises Corporation, a leading company in technological innovations, with Farnsworth running things while Newton remains reclusive. What no one knows is that Newton is an alien in disguise, his business dealings all part of an elaborate plan to build a spaceship and transport water back to his home planet, Anthea, which is in the midst of a severe drought and where Newton’s wife and children wait for him. In the years it takes to realise his dream, Newton is exposed and destroyed by the many temptations that Earth has to offer.
I’m a big fan of David Bowie and remember watching him in Labyrinth when I was growing up in the eighties. Bowie’s legendary album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars has one or two echoes of The Man Who Fell to Earth. Ziggy Stardust was an alien that came to earth and became a rock star only to be destroyed by his own fans. Newton is a seemingly harmless alien, raising the capital for an impressive empire within weeks of his arrival. He is quiet, cautious and drinks a lot of water, a luxury on Earth that he and his family no longer enjoy in their own world. Having set up his business Newton returns to New Mexico where he meets Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) in a hotel. She becomes a close companion and introduces him to religion, television, alcohol and sex. Alcohol and television in particular gradually eat away at Newton.
I enjoyed The Man Who Fell to Earth. Bowie is great in the lead as Newton and he is supported by a good cast. When knowledge of what Newton is comes to the fore we bear witness to mankind’s ability to destroy things they do not understand. Newton’s personal and professional relationships are severely tested and he is encouraged to lose himself in the embrace of alcohol. All the time the clock is ticking and we see images of Newton and the family he left behind, the wife and two children slowly dying on their desert of a planet. There are some striking effects and imagery throughout the film, almost psychedelic moments, but it all adds well to the overall story.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is like an anti-E.T. movie. Newton’s rise and fall is tragic and cruel, a misunderstood alien being trying to help his family and turning to Earth as a last resort only to find many temptations waiting for him here.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)