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"I think perhaps Mr. Newton has had enough, don't you?"
A 1976 sci-fi film directed by Nicolas Roeg, based upon the novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. It stars the thin, other-worldly David Bowie as the thin, other-worldly Thomas Jerome Newton. It centers around an extraterrestrial who journeys to Earth after his planet experiences an intense drought, determined to find a way to ship water to it. As he amasses a fortune with a variety of high-tech inventions, intending to use the money to build a ship that will solve his planet's problem, he embarks upon a love affair with a simple girl named Mary-Lou, which is nice, I guess. Thomas also ends up starting a love affair with television and alcohol, which is a lot less nice, I guess. To reveal any more would delve this into spoiler city. Let's simply say the ending is... sad.
It has become a cult favorite for featuring highly surreal, striking imagery, to say nothing of Bowie in his first starring role. Another thing this film is noted for is a few very gratuitous sex scenes. It's a somewhat slow, thoughtful piece, and YMMV on how well it works out.
The Man Who Fell to Earth provides examples of:
- Adaptation Dye Job: Thomas's hair is curly, white, and natural in the novel, but in the film it's Bowie's own Dye Hard red locks (he is a natural dark blonde), and those are revealed in-story to be part of his disguise, as he is hairless.
- The Alcoholic: Thomas becomes one.
- Alien Among Us: Thomas Jerome Newton.
- Aliens Speaking English: Thomas. The flashbacks to his homeworld have no dialogue, so we have no idea what his native tongue is like, but we can assume he learned English as part of preparing for his mission.
- Aliens Steal Cable: Thomas's people can observe Earth this way, so once he's established his business empire there he appears in an ad for it to serve as a coded greeting to his family back home. To bid his people farewell he records an album, figuring the message will be transmitted via radio waves.
- Bottomless Magazines: A six-cylinder revolver is fired seventeen times in succession (on the other hand, they're all part of a montage...).
- Bring My Brown Pants: Played for Drama -- Mary-Lou wets herself upon seeing Thomas's true form.
- Double Meaning Title: Thomas doesn't just fall to Earth physically, and that's why there's a...
- Downer Ending: Oh yes. Thomas slips into alcoholism, is captured by the government and experimented on for years, fails his planet, lets his family die, and loses the only thing he has left to love on Earth.
- Dying Race: Thomas's, due to the drought.
- ET Gave Us Wi Fi: Thomas uses the advanced technology from his home planet to patent numerous inventions on Earth, leading to him becoming very wealthy.
- Fake Brit: Thomas is an in-universe example in both the book and the film.
- The Film of the Book: Albeit with significant alterations, deletions, and expansions -- there is no romantic relationship for Thomas on Earth in the book, and the sex lives of the characters aren't brought up at all, for starters. As well, the story is straightforwardly told in the novel. It's a Type 2 on the Sliding Scale of Adaptation Modification (recognizable as an adaptation). The Criterion Collection DVD edition actually included a copy of the book.
- Fish Out of Water: Thomas, majorly.
- Freaky Is Cool: Early on in their relationship, Mary-Lou says "You know Tommy, you're a freak. I don't mean that unkindly. I like freaks. And that's why I like you." (Sadly, when she sees his true form it becomes clear there's only so much freakiness she can take.)
- Flash Back: A few to Thomas's homeworld and family. Later, the audience is also privy to what they are doing in his absence.
- Hot for Student: Dr. Nathan Bryce teaches some extra credit lessons to some of his female students...
- Human Aliens: This is how Thomas appears most of the time, but it is an elaborate disguise. His actual form, which includes cat-like eyes and lacks ears, hair, fingernails, etc., belongs to the Rubber Forehead Aliens trope. This is a major change from the novel, in which Thomas doesn't need to alter his appearance much to walk amongst humans.
- Humanity Is Infectious: Yes, indeed. Bowie stated in a 1980 interview with NME that Thomas "is a far better person at the end of the film than he was when he came down" thanks to this, which may well be true. But his saying that "what the effects of all that on him are is secondary" seems to easily dismiss the Downer Ending...
- Humans Are Bastards: Averted. Thomas tells Nathan, when all is said and done, "We'd have probably done the same to you, if you'd come 'round our place."
- Icarus Allusion: Both book and film openly reference the myth of Icarus, who literally fell to Earth when he flew too close to the sun via wings of feathers and wax. The first section of the novel is actually titled "Icarus Descending".
- Innocent Aliens: Thomas -- the central tragedy of the story is his loss of innocence as he lives amongst humans.
- Interplay of Sex and Violence: In the scene where Thomas and Mary-Lou have graphic sex while shooting blanks, sometimes at each other, with a revolver.
- Irony as She Is Cast: When Mary-Lou takes Thomas to a church service and they join the rest of the congregation in a hymn, he proves to be an off-key singer.
- I Will Wait for You: Thomas's family. They die waiting.
- Last Of His Kind: Thomas, in the end.
- Limited Special Collectors Ultimate Edition: The Criterion Collection DVD is flush with extras, including (as mentioned above) a paperback copy of the source novel. This was also one of the first four Criterion Blu-Ray releases.
- Love Hurts: Especially when you're light-years away from your family and your relationship with your mistress is going sour...
- Mega Corp: World Enterprises is a benevolent version of Type 2.
- Messianic Archetype: Thomas must leave his homeworld, people, and family to save them, and he suffers greatly on Earth, up to and including betrayal by Nathan Bryce. Thanks in part to the resultant years of captivity and torture his mission fails, leaving him broken, making this probably a subversion of the trope. The Christ parallel is made more explicit in the source novel.
- Mind Screw: The film frequently indulges in surreal imagery.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Despite the fact that the human characters grow much older, it's all Seventies clothes, technology, etc.
- Somewhat justified, given that there are brief snippets (such as are significant in this movie) revealing that the government thinks that Newton is dangerous precisely because he brings progress, and that they're looking for stasis. Though it's less likely that the government would care as much about fashion as technology...
- In the book, there are changes in fashion -- frilly shirts for men, 'off-the-breast' gowns for women -- but the world is very much that of its writing, 1963-64.
- Non Actor Vehicle: For David Bowie.
- Nonhuman Lover Reveal: Gender flipped and deconstructed. When Thomas reveals his true form to Mary-Lou -- long after they've consummated their relationship (their lovemaking, it should be noted, requires him to be in his human disguise) -- she is horrified and repulsed. Thus, their already-troubled relationship is further damaged. They have a last tryst together during his captivity and break up afterward.
- Ominous Multiple Screens: Justified, in that Thomas can actually pay attention to all of the screens.
- Reality Subtext: Bowie was addicted to cocaine and other illicit substances at this point in his life, so seeing him play a character who falls under the sway of substance abuse has this trope written all over it. Perhaps fittingly his albums Station to Station (1976, recorded at the lowest point of his addiction) and Low (1977, the first album of the "Berlin Trilogy" that unfolded as he gradually emerged from it) got their cover art from photos of him here. As well, the look and to a lesser extent personality of his Thin White Duke stage persona for the former album and tour was adapted from his work here -- the hair especially.
- Re Cut: The American theatrical release reordered scenes and cut about twenty minutes, but the current video releases are uncut.
- Redheaded Hero: Movie only (see Adaptation Dye Job above).
- The Remake: A 1987 Made for TV Movie that credited both the novel and screenplay but made plenty of changes since it was intended to launch a Recycled: the Series.
- Second Love: Nathan is this for Mary-Lou.
- Standard Snippet: The U.K. theatrical trailer used Holst's Mars, Bringer of War (ironic, since Thomas comes in peace).
- The Stoic: In the film, Thomas is a quiet soul whose emotionlessness rarely cracks; when it does it is usually when he is frightened and/or in physical pain. He was more emotional in the book, particularly at the end.
- They Would Cut You Up: The issue comes up when Thomas is captured. His prison is comfortable, but scientists subject him to scalpels and syringes for years.
- Tragic Hero: Thomas, whose naivete about humans and their ways and pastimes is his flaw. (While this trope precludes him from being The Woobie, by the end he certainly warrants a hug.)
- Unintentional Period Piece: For The Seventies.
- Unusual Eyebrows: In his true form, Thomas has no eyebrows (it's part of his overall hairlessness).
- We Are as Mayflies: The film takes place over the course of several decades, during which the major characters age from young adults into old age. Newton, however, remains the same.
- William Shatner: Not in the film itself, but he provided the relatively-subdued-yet-weighty voiceover intro for the U.S. trailer.
"This is one of the most unusual films you will ever see. The Man Who Fell to Earth is a fantastic movie about power, space, time, love, and a visitor."