You know how there are some people who were so iconic and full of life that every time you remember they're dead, it sort of ruins your whole day? Like Paul Newman, or Robin Williams? Well, David Bowie is another one of those people. I've been wanting to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth ever since I heard news of his passing, but at the same time have been dreading it a little bit. Goodbyes are hard.
Basically, the plot is as follows. An alien from a distant planet comes to Earth, using his knowledge of advanced technology to make money that will save his civilization from their devastating drought. The stakes are pretty high, because his planet is literally dying, and he has an entire family of weird jumpsuit-clad aliens that are depending on him for their very survival.
Seriously, what are they wearing?
But here's where it's good news/bad news time. Yes, David Bowie succeeds in building a massive money-making empire to put Donald Trump and his freakish little toddler hands to shame. Strangely enough, his great technological innovation is self-developing film which a.) is adorably dated and b.) seems like the sort of thing that Polaroid already had a handle on in 1976.
Unfortunately, he also gets caught up in the full human experience, which obviously involves a self-destructive downward spiral into sex and drug addiction. Ironically, David Bowie spent most of the film nose-deep in a pool of cocaine, so how much acting was there going on, really?
He starts off with the noblest of intentions, but after like a week and a half on Earth, he takes up with a small town hotel worker who is sweet and simple and achingly codependent. Meanwhile, he starts drinking like a fish and becomes apathetic to the point of being unresponsive. Just being around us is enough to break the poor alien. And as his mission seems more and more unlikely to succeed as the years go by, he almost seems to stop caring. Of course, it doesn't help that on the eve of his self-funded space launch, he is captured by the US government who do the two things that they do best: torturing aliens and screwing literally everything up.
By the end of the film, he's a depressed, withdrawn man, resigned to the fact that he has failed his people and his wife and children are all long dead and it's kind of all his fault. Yay.
Also, there's this weird subplot about a professor turned David Bowie employee/confidant/eventual traitor whose only defining character trait is his penchant for sleeping with 18 year old college students. Played by Rip Torn. Now, I know that Rip Torn has been in a ton of films, but I hear that voice and all I can think of is Patches O'Houlihan from Dodgeball.
Unfortunately, this means that I have now seen Patches O'Houlihan's dick, which sort of makes me hate life in general.
So that's The Man Who Fell to Earth. It falls into the trap of being deeply 1970s in every single way, but if nothing else, it's an incredibly ambitious film. Sure, there are moments when it fails, but it's hard to fault a science fiction film that really goes for it as much as this one does. It's hard to imagine a film like this getting made today, and that's kind of a bummer, even though The Man Who Fell to Earth does has some truly bizarre moments that just don't work.
In the end, watch this movie for David Bowie, a true icon who is probably the only human who could have pulled off this role. He was a delicate, beautiful creature at the height of his glory when this film came out, and despite the fact that he was stoned out of his mind for pretty much the entire production, he turns in a charismatic, vulnerable performance that works despite the sillier elements of the film.