As promised in yesterday’s post, here are my initial impressions and thoughts now that I have seen this film … Part of me is inclined to announce spoiler warnings because it just seems like courtesy, but, given that the movie came out in 1976, it seems silly to do so. Though I am sure there a plenty of other out there who, like me, were born some years after and had not seen it. Anyhow, the following assumes you’ve seen the film and know what I’m talking about:
My very first reaction after the end of the movie, and what I literally asked my friend, was “what the fuck did I just watch?”. OK, I get it, it was the 70’s. I get the excuses for nudity and sex (and I thought today’s movies were bad – I actually got to see David Bowie’s junk) and I have no problem with that.
But, was there a point to anything in that movie? I certainly have many more questions than answers–
- I understand that Mr. Newton (Bowie) is an alien from another planet who has come to earth because his own home world has become a desert and his family has no water (and it was never really clear if that family is still alive or if they’re dead by the end of the film – all of the images of his family seem to be flashbacks and imagined scenarios so I don’t know that the clip of his wife and children slumped over in the sand isn’t just his worried imagination). But he never actually makes it back to his homeworld. He goes through all this trouble to amass a fortune to fund a space program that he seems ready to pilot off with water to bring back when…
- Newton is kidnapped(?) and taken to this holding where there are all manner of tests and experiments performed on him (because he’s an alien, because somehow word got out) and I get that. I understand that. But, while I was initially led to believe he was there against his will -he calls out for help and tries to get out of the building at one point when Mary Lou comes to see him – he also seems rather calm about it all at moments (he’s certainly not being held in a concrete cell) and at one point tells Mary Lou that he can do anything and gets what he wants because he is rich. So, does this mean he wanted to be there? Were the experiments his idea to show the world? There was some brief discussion about this, but it wasn’t conclusive. But, if he wanted to be there, why call for help? Why not just walk out the front door? I’m mostly just confused on this point.
- Why did he never go back home? At the end of the film, Newton is sitting at an outdoor cafe, drinking some kind of alcohol, and talking with Dr. Bryce (Rip Torn). He drops the glass as a waiter is coming up and there are statements from both the waiter and Bryce, as well as an affirmation from Newton, that he’s had enough (to drink and/or of Earth?). Newton bows his head and credits roll. What, if anything, has been resolved by the end of this film? I realize that it’s entirely possible that the whole point was that nothing was resolved. One thing I DID notice…
- At the beginning of the film, all Newton wants to drink is water. He is almost obsessed with it (which is reasonable given the lack of water back home) and turns down any other drink but water. However, shortly after meeting Mary Lou, who is an obvious alcoholic, he begins to drink booze instead. In fact, after Newton begins to drink alcohol, we don’t see him drink water again. BUT, we do see numerous booze bottles around the home. This is also when the plot starts to lose focus. Is there a commentary in there on alcohol? Or is that just my being straight edge seeing that message?
- The way time flows in this film is hard to follow. It’s obvious that years progress – other characters around Newton age while he stays the same – but we’re never clued in to when time jumps forward or by how much (beyond the general notion that, oh Bryce has grey hair now and Mary Lou has put on a couple of pounds and has some sag).
Over all, I enjoyed the film and am glad I got to see it in the theater. I wonder how this film was received in the time in came out? What aspects of culture or life have I simply not noticed because I grew up in a different point in time? I find it rather interesting, living in the time that I do, to hear commentary from one character in the film about humankind only being able to process and accept so much new tech before they simply can’t take it. I’ve not yet read any other reviews or critiques or theories about it as I wanted to have just my own impressions initially. I think though, that now I’m going to look this up as I am really curious.