Australia seems to be far ahead of the U.S. in terms of producing science fiction movies with content. Alien Visitor (originally released as Epsilon in 1997) makes blunt statements about our civilization's disregard for nature and the environment. One reason why such a film is possible in Australia may be because that country has already begun to feel the impact of our pollution (the same reason why permaculture caught on there much sooner).
The premise concerns a female extraterrestrial (“She,” played by Ullie Birve) who is stranded on Earth--the last place she wants to be. While in the Australian outback, she encounters a male camper (“the Man,” played by Syd Brisbane), who’s neither a tree hugger nor one who parrots phrases from hate radio.
From the outset of their interactions, as she takes them through space and time, the extraterrestrial expresses extreme contempt for humans (although she appears empathetic to extinct indigenous people). At one point she says: “Here on Earth you have an expression, ‘sticking your head in the sand,’ the ostrich mentality. . . . In the rest of the universe we have another expression that means almost the same thing. If we say, ‘Someone is breathing the foul air,’ we mean they have the Earth mentality. It is about the worst insult you can level at someone . . . [H]aving the Earth mentality is the one thing that is truly unforgivable in the rest of the universe.”
At another point in their space-time travels, she asks to see the "Man's" favorite tree. He shows her one that was special to him in his childhood, especially during hard times. Sometimes he even talked to it. She produces an axe and, much to his horror, proceeds to chop it down. “Not this tree,” he exclaims. “Please! Pick another one, there’s forests of them…!” She ignores him and continues chopping.
The film’s narrator (played by Alethea McGrath) says, “Every blow felt like a blow to his heart, but more importantly, every blow was a blow to his apathy, his indifference to his place in the world. “
The extraterrestrial tells the human that if she were to assimilate into his culture, she would be complicit in this kind of destruction every time she wanted anything.
Alien Visitor, then, is this man’s journey from apathy to consciousness.
(WARNING: some of the following content contains spoilers.)
At another point, as the man becomes increasingly aware, he reflects on our environmental crisis. “You tend to get depressed about it at first, thinking about how just one person doesn’t make any difference at all.” However, as he also observes: “[w]hen there’s a war on—when their country and their way of life are threatened—people don’t hesitate to change their life completely, you know, to risk everything: their job, their career, their life, their family and friends. They’re ready to risk everything, which is how it’s got to be to win the war.” And, as he notes, “this is a war--this is more than a war--but we muck around at the edges of it .”
(End of spoilers.)
This movies has been criticized for its smallness in terms of production values and special effects. However, to me, this quality is consistent with Alien Visitor’s philosophy: movie-making is very energy-intensive, so smaller is more environmentally sound. Also, in a society that obsesses about technical perfection in movies, it’s refreshing to see a science fiction film where content is actually more important than hypnotic fireworks(1).
There are a number of insightful reviews of Alien Visitor on IMDb.com (as well as reviews that one would expect from the mindset of say, hecklers at a peace vigil).
Indeed, as one reviewer correctly notes: “This is a subversive story, one that political conservatives will detest. With chests puffed-out they will sing the following chorus: 'What gives an ‘extraterrestrial outsider’ the right to condemn the human race's destruction of the environment, and ostracize our precious way of life?’”
Another favorable commentary entitled “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” states, “Let's just say that had Nick Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth worked this well back in 1976, it would be known today for content rather than David Bowie.”
(1)Ironically, this project was inspired by visual imagery (timelapse footage) that director Rolf de Heer saw, as he discusses here: http://www.vertigoproductions.com.au/information.php?film_id=6&display=notes