Where can I start with The Brother From another Planet? John Sayles is a well know, independent, interesting film maker. Men With Guns stands as a film I loved, as was Matewan. His style is not for everyone, and his movies are definitely hit or miss, however. He has directed films that have won major awards, and films that are rated extremely lowly and generally forgotten. Sort of the nature of the beast when it comes to independent film.
The Brother From another Planet was his first really big, successful film. It was a film that was a major work for quite a while and what it's doing on the Sci Fi Invasion boxset, well, uh, I don't really know. I guess it must've slipped into the public domain somehow. But to be honest, I would be willing to bet that this one is a film that is at least semi up-for-consideration for a Criterion edition boxset that sells for an unprecedented 49.95.
The film itself is an analogy. It's a look at our society from an outsider perspective, and it has plenty of I'm sure at the time relevant things to say. I'm not saying it's aged badly, I'm just saying that looking at it 33 years later, it's obviously lost some impact.
Joe Morton stars as an alien, a black man who lands in New York. He is unable to speak, and he traverses the city experiencing American life. This movie takes it's time getting there, but in short "the brother" experiences everything from racism to sex to brotherly love and more. He sees the seedy parts of the city, the beauty of it, and he interacts with the locals.
The "brother" has various unidentified powers. He has a way with machinery, controlling it to his whim and fixing it. He can also mend wounds in himself and presumably others. He can pull out his eyeball and see through it after it's separated from his body, and in short, is a dynamically powered individual. We never get a taste of how far his powers truly extend, and it's one of the many parts of this movie to go unexplained.
The "brother" is meanwhile pursued by two men wearing all black. They're white men, and unlike him they can speak. They are eccentric, and full of John Sayles weird-isms that someone like me who has seen a lot of his movies knows to expect. They emit screeching sounds, they act zany and bizarre, and to boot one of them is even played by Sayles himself.
The plot goes from there, we see a lot of different interactions of different levels of believability. It's a hopeful movie, one about the power of community, the opportunity of the world, and the strength of friendships. It's not big on reason and explanation, but it needs not be. This is back when movies didn't spell things out for us the way they do now, and I appreciate that some things go unexplained.
I really don't know how to rate it though. Shot well, well acted, extremely memorable, yet also quite slow, full of supposed "plot holes" and very open to interpretation. It's kind of the epitome of the independent film, and maybe that's why I like it. It shows a person who is essentially blank, experiencing out world for the first time. He has no reaction to it, and that's because we as the audience are supposed to react. And that's why I like directors like John Sayles. He asks you, as the audience, to be an active participant in the film. Some will be willing. Other won't be.
I give it 3.5 stars though. It's a little bit long, and it's got a bit too much weirdness in it to age well. I feel like perhaps they weren't sure what to do with the idea, and I understand why. It's a difficult idea, and it doesn't lend itself well to multiple outcomes.