Picture this. For no apparent reason, your longtime colleague, John Oldman, is moving to a faraway place. Along with a group of colleagues and friends, you’ve come to his house to bid farewell. It’s a surprise party, and although the host feels honoured, he seems a tad reserved and taciturn. To spark a conversation and break the ice, you grab the first object within your reach. It happens to be an ancient artifact. Everyone wonders where it came from. John gives an evasive answer that no one takes seriously. But it does the trick, and conversation gains momentum. One question leads to another; and John begins to unravel his story, albeit reluctantly.
He’s lived a long life, 14,000 years, to be sure. Over centuries he has traveled through different continents and cultures, moved through one epoch to another. His body doesn’t age, and he looks like an average person around 40. Every 10 years he has to move on. No, he never had a pet dinosaur, as there had been no dinosaurs left at the time when the first cave people roamed the earth. Nor did he remember his parents or any details of his childhood. Questions start pouring in. Does he believe in God? Maybe. Or maybe not. Did he know any historical figures? Yes. He studied with the Buddha. Did he know a Biblical character or… WAS he a Biblical hero himself? Indeed. Was he Moses? One of the apostles? No, John says. He is hesitant whether he should tell. Finally, he reveals that he was… Jesus himself.
If you have a vivid imagination and could picture yourself as part of this group of John’s colleagues, how would you feel? Bemused? Outraged? Scared? Would the ground under your feet shake considerably or vanish entirely? Or would you think John had lost it and needed professional help? Or maybe he should be shot, like a rabid dog… or a vampire.
Well, that is what the movie The Man from Earth is about. It’s a tale about how attached we are to our beliefs and convictions — our safety net that we have woven so carefully and tenaciously, our refuge and anchor in this reality, something that we know as true. And when someone like John shows up, wreaking havoc in our minds and turning our world on its head, we react based on how tightly woven that safety net is. But isn’t our perception of reality, the way we know it, just a map, and not the terrain itself? And maps themselves have a different level of detail and show different type of land. What if your map shows a tiny island and John’s an entire continent?
Of all characters in the movie, Dan’s my favourite. He says, “There’s absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove his story. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it. No matter how outrageous we think it is, no matter how highly trained some of us think we are, there’s absolutely no way to disprove it! My friend is either a caveman, a liar, or a nut. So while we’re thinking about that, why don’t we just go with it.”
If you were a character in the movie, what would you believe: John is a liar, a nut or a caveman? What’s on your map?