Before Star Wars made the dominant setting of pop culture Science Fiction in-space there were other stories that proposed the big “What if?” to a scientific reality and explored the repercussions of changing it. Older films didn’t have the ability to make billions of polygons dance on screen so they had to use plot and intrigue to grip an audiences attention, the ones that did survive in general knowledge to this day.
The film starts with a tenure professor’s going away party, the intention being to make final farewells to his friends of the last ten years. The last remnants of his packing that are on show and spark questions that lead to the idea that he proposes to the group: “What if a man, from the Upper Palaeolithic survived until the present day?” The academics and guests proceed to follow the hypothesis through conversation and enquiry.
Despite only the briefest of movements on the porch the stage is the hosts lounge with the story progressing purely through the parties discussions. The dialogue grips your attention so much that you easily imagine entire realms of possibilities about when and what the ‘caveman’ experienced.
One idea presented is of the “all knowing immortal”; a 14,000 year old would only be able to learn upto the edge of published knowledge on a particular subject, the noosphere grows too fast for anyone able to keep up. As such his current preoccupation’s information would be current but the Literature Doctorate from a century ago would be mostly redundant.
Same goes for experiences, a singular viewpoint of his nearest 100 metres doesn’t allow for a great perspective of what the world was doing at any one moment. You might be able to relay key events if you’re part of them but anything important enough to be of note indirectly puts attention on you, something that could result in your secrets discovery. Such a lapse could have dire consequences since as an ageless prisoner you would be trapped in your own body with escape as your only hope whereas a mortals death or escape could be their release.
This is one of those rare films (and by proxy the book ) that deserves to be remembered for its examination of long life, something that although has been done before it is done in a way and to a greater extent that the Highlander cinema never did. A rarity with great plot writing has becoming so scarce in the mainstream.
If you enjoyed what they could squeeze into this 108 minute film then I suggest checking out the book by Jerome Bixby of the same name.