The Man Who Fell to Earth poses one of the most terrifying thoughts: despite being one of the most advanced species, having fixed things from cancer to clean power, you can’t stop your planet from dying. It’s up there with immortality, which in some sense is the same thing. The Man Who Fell to Earth takes this issue and places this problem for an alien to fix.
Newton (David Bowie) crash lands on earth in an attempt to collect water for his planet, which is being devastated by a drought. Director Nicolas Roeg creates a specialised adaptation, moving away from a planet-destroying war that was in Walter Tevis’ original novel, and instead focuses on the idea of the impending doom of naturing destroying humanity. Roeg fashions two tragedies for Newtown: the devastation of his planet and the loss of his family. One we fear but cannot relate to as our lush and lively planet still sustains us, and secondly, a human tragedy we can sympathise with.
Newton soon becomes a man who has money, power and a lover, Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), but everything gets torn away from him through his addictions to alcohol, sex and television. In many ways, the more he becomes human the further he falls: a metaphoric relationship to both his crash landing on Earth and his Christian fall from grace; the latter referencing an angel being banished to earth where they become human and is stuck there for eternity.
In this final stage of Newton’s tragedy, he is forced to leave his home again when government agents work out that he’s an alien. He’s experimented on and isolated. When his eyes are X-rayed, he loses his ability to transform back into his original form, forcing him to remain human forever. During all of this, Newton is well aware that his family and his planet are dying, failing his mission. This leads to his further breakdown… and his fall from grace is complete.
Roeg’s film focuses on one alien who has to deal with the effects of a dystopian future well before the human race has even considered it fully. Bowie’s first acting performance manages to conflict his audience in a way where we sympathise with everything he’s been through, but his behaviour ostracises him from us because the parts that are human are taken to the extreme. This scares us, as we fear what people can become capable of. Meanwhile, his alien origins make us question his humanity. This divide opens to the point of a deep chasm, where his personalities flicker chaotically between the two, then it drops entirely. Newton appears to have spent half a lifetime locked away, but when he eventually steps out that door, he is the same. Here brings one more question to my list, what do you do if you live for eternity, have the resources, but can no longer save your planet? Newton considers this and states one of the most famous quotes of the film, ‘I’m not a scientist, but I know all things begin and end in eternity.’