Famous for his shapeshifting and experimental, entrancing songs, David Bowie’s role in the film The Man Who Fell To Earth is rarely noted nowadays. For me this is one of his finest pieces of work, alongside the song Changes from the 1971 Hunky Dory album. As a rare example of a movie that closely mirrors the book, Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name published in 1963 tells the story of a Martian who comes to earth to find a way to save his planet, his species and his own family. Bowie captures perfectly the loneliness and at times despair of the alien as he tries to make himself understood by the people he becomes involved with on earth. There is always an archetypal quality to Bowie’s work and in this role, he seems to me to mirror the Jungian process of individuation, that always requires some kind of descent into the unknown and often alien realms of the unconscious.
Other symbols of a pending descent into the inner world include dreams of stairways down to a cave or basement, or sliding into a lake or ocean. The classic example is Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland, whose descent down the rabbit hole and encounters with numerous archetypal characters represent the way in which humans can grow through encounters with the unconscious (see Clifton Snider’s article at http://www.csulb.edu/~csnider/Lewis.Carroll.html ).
Ancient myths also reflect this theme, like Orpheus in the underworld and Persephone’s cyclical return. But the ultimate goal of descent is to touch base in some way before returning to the world a more expanded and integrated person, like the hero returning with the elixir of life or as Jung expounded, the alchemist finding the lapis lazuli.
While not everyone’s cup of tea, The Man Who Fell To Earth gives me a sense of the ultimate creativity of the hero’s journey and takes the sting out of uncertainty and change, for though the hero may not achieve his or her intial plans, they often find connections and meaning in the new world, so that ultimately it is the journey, not the destination that matters. Here’s a link to the Bowie song Changes