“Halfway Home” written by David Shire and Carol Connors, performed by Maureen McGovern. The song is a typical family film theme song. You should feel uplifted, but still have tears drying on your cheeks and be tired of your children asking you questions.
Interesting Dated References: An elderly person having the free will to choose where they die; People in an RV having free reign to drive wherever they want within a national forest; People learning from each other and growing both spiritually and emotionally.
Best Line: William Holden has one of the best voices. It’s perfect craggy-old-man. This results in a lot of good lines, the best of which is shouted to a small boy — “Your mama’s dead, and your papa’s dead, and that’s the hard truth, just like my folks are dead. And some day you’re going to die, just like someday … I’m going to die.”
Social Context: Much like in Marvin and Tige, The Earthling is about a depressed old man learning to love again through the companionship of a precocious young boy. It’s hard to believe there was a period of time in the early 80s when the world loved to hear about old men befriending children they had no blood relation to.
Summary: Patrick Foley (William Holden), who is very crabby and very terminally ill, arrives in Australia where he grew up. After stopping briefly in his hometown to speak with some old friends, he retreats into the forest. His intent is to die on the far-off property that he was raised on.
Basically from beginning to end, Foley spouts nothing but fatalistic ramblings about how he wasted his life in pursuit of meaningless things.
Enter blonde-haired, blue-eyed Shawn Daley (Ricky Schroder) to help dilute Foley’s bleakness. Shawn is an only child accompanying his parents on a fun family trip through the Australian wilderness.
His dad must have a total death wish because he drives their RV to the edge of a giant cliff, where they decide it’s a good idea to camp right on this ledge. Mr. Daley sends his wife into the RV to make lunch, and his son off to gather some wood, and then proceeds to drive the RV away from the ledge.
Death wish granted, Mr. Daley drives the RV right off the fucking cliff while his son watches and shrieks uncontrollably. The RV plummets for like a full minute. The filmmakers really launched it off a high cliff.
Shawn is able to scale down the insanely huge cliff with little to no effort. He then shrieks for what seems a solid five minutes and finally collapses, pawing at the RV carcass filled with his parents carcasses. It’s amazing Ricky Schroder is such a well-adjusted adult. These scenes are pretty traumatizing and he’s doing a good job acting. You’d think he’d be drug addled and full of mental scarring.
Foley witnesses the RV plummet and subsequently hears the boy shrieking. Knowing this will interfere with his plan to die when he wants to die, he actively tries to scare the child off. Eventually Shawn finds Foley at his camp. Shawn can’t speak because he is traumatized by watching his idiot dad drive off a cliff, so Foley continues to try to shoo him away.
But Foley is eventually unable to resist Shawn’s sad face. Shawn looks like the human equivalent of the saddest feces-covered dog you’ve ever seen. The two start bonding as Foley shows the boy how to hunt, fish, set booby-traps, share food with aborigines, find direction, and eat berries.
Despite being on his way to die, Foley still shaves. Then he gets a little delirious from not eating and decides he needs to kill a kangaroo, despite the fact he thinks it is a sacred animal.
Eating the kangaroo gives them the strength to make it to Foley’s boyhood home. Aside from the caved-in roof, it’s pretty nice digs. Green grass, steam bath, wild animals running all over the fucking place, etc. After a few days of this, Foley tells Shawn he has to leave.
He shows him a graveyard where his father is buried and explains that Shawn will have to do the same to Foley. This leads to a bunch of little boy crying as Foley tells him to never be ashamed of love.
The following day Shawn buries the corpse of Foley as a voiceover gives him more survival instructions. After completing the burial, Shawn throws on a backpack and begins hiking out of the wilderness.
We can assume Shawn died 8 hours later. The Earthling was beautifully shot on location in the Blue Mountains of Australia. During filming, director Peter Collinson (The Italian Job) found out he was terminally ill with lung cancer and died a year later. The Earthling was also one of the last films William Holden appeared in before dying in the most awesome way possible (head injury while drunk and alone). Ricky Schroder lives on. Since the one-two punch of The Champ and The Earthling, he has backed off on his mission to make the world cry.
Poster and Box Art: There’s a great use of negative space on the US poster art for The Earthling. Not only that, but the main actors’ faces are in the background and pretty faded out. Imagine a Hollywood where small ghosted faces and tons of negative space was acceptable. Just another way in which the world sucks now.
This Australian poster is genuinely creepy. The weird color tinting makes the whole image look like a clay sculpture. It’s disturbing.
Availability: There’s no DVD, but The Earthling was issued on VHS many times throughout the 80s and 90s and you can buy those tapes on eBay.