Poor movie. You give me such images, such expanses of David Bowie, such provocative editing as a kabuki swordfight in a Japanese restaurant inter-cut with the violent coupling of a professor and his student, and yet you give me nothing in the way of a plot I can understand. You span an uncounted number of years without bothering to tell me when or how much time has passed. You have the perfect actor to portray a not-quite human alien’s descent into the debauchery of human existence, and yet I have no way of knowing if that’s what the film is actually about.
Nicholas Roeg’s 1975 science fiction epic is impressive in the way that a mural by a very gifted 10 year old might be impressive. There are going to be some amazing sights, and some bizarre metaphors, but in the end there’s not enough behind it to make any sense. There is so much to think about in this film’s visual offerings that it’s a shame one’s left with the sense that nothing they saw actually means anything since the script just couldn’t put itself together long enough to give any of the characters motivation or articulate dialogue. David Bowie’s title character is arresting to look at, letting me in finally on the secret of his fame (although I did like him as Pilate in The Last Temptation of Christ). And while his character is a bit stony, his acting is quite good. Candy Clark fares less well, but she may be more annoying than bad. Rip Torn is a disillusioned science professor who comes in on Bowie’s project to get back to his own planet, which is suffering from a drought. We never learn how exactly Bowie is going to fix this, or why he is prevented from leaving. If we ignore the lack of rational plotting, there is a nice visual trajectory of his metaphoric “fall to earth.” It’s just too bad it isn’t actually a good movie.