Review: The Brother From Another Planet (1984)

the brother from another planet

I sometimes feel as if I’m from another planet, it could be true!

Written By: John Sayles
Directed By: John Sayles

The Brother never speaks during The Brother From Another Planet, and that is integral to why the film works. The rest of the characters in The Brother From Another Planet exist around the Brother. He doesn’t spurn them on to action, nor does he influence them, or interact with them in more than the tiniest of ways. Yet, the presence of the Brother is enough to effect those around him. They open up to the Brother, they let loose some of their secrets, and they do things they wouldn’t normally do otherwise. This creates a connection between the viewer and the Brother, because we imagine ourselves as the same type of foreigner he is. As the people react to the stoicism of the Brother, so do we. That’s not to say that Joe Morton isn’t acting in The Brother From Another Planet. He acts plenty, but a major part of his performance is being stoic and allowing others to react to his presence.

It’s pretty obvious that the Brother represents a fresh take on the world. He is able to bring a new pair of eyes to a world that we know pretty well. He hasn’t been tainted by the preconceptions we bring to the world, nor has he been indoctrinated into the world the same way we have. Color boundaries, social class, humor, and all the rigid guidelines that we use to define the world slowly evaporate as we see those guidelines through the eyes of a foreigner. In this way the film is also about how the Brother reacts to the world. In his reaction we see how truly strange our world is, and how we have been trained to react in certain ways to our world.

As The Brother From Another Planet was nearing its completion the film had built up a lot of good faith with me. The themes of the film were working, as was the blend of comedy and drama that John Sayles was implementing. However, near the end a drug subplot was inserted into the film, and it never quite paid off. Oh, the subplot had a proper ending and all that. But, the drug subplot never meshed with the rest of the film. It felt at odds with the observational nature of the rest of the film. The drug subplot is the one great misfire of The Brother From Another Planet, and it is quite detrimental to the film.

The Brother From Another Planet isn’t the great cult classic I was hoping for. It’s a well made film with a lot going for it. However, it stumbles near the end and the whole of the film never measures up to the sum of its parts. I’ll say one thing though, Mr. Sayles is one interesting filmmaker. The Brother From Another Planet is an interesting film, with compelling ideas, by a filmmaker who isn’t afraid to take his films in new and diverse directions. On that front The Brother From Another Planet is a rousing success, but in totality the film isn’t quite what it should be.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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