Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 30 August 2004
Source MGM DVD
features: John Sayles: American Independent
The eponymous Brother crash lands his spaceship in the Hudson River. The crash injures him (leaving him sans foot), he hops to the shore and finds a glimpse of Ellis Island. This action displays one of many clever situational puns in the film involving the Brother’s status as a literal illegal alien: although he has traveled from another planet, the end of his commute is identified in the same manner as European immigrants, with the archetypical image of the Statue of Liberty.
The Brother is perceptibly benevolent, dressed in unkempt foreign garb, and acquires leers from all parties as he moves about the bustling city. He has no concept, at first, of the implicit rules of human interaction, and will break most of them on his first day. It is not long before a policeman is chasing after him for a mundane theft he does not understand.
Difficulty of communication is the prevalent toll of emigration; in this scenario, the emigrant has no voice at all. Assimilation is the central topic here, as The Brother’s extra-nationality serves to distance him from everyone. It is never made explicitly clear why the Brother arrives on Earth (although it is implied he is some sort of fugitive slave), but the aspect of science fiction is incidental to the film’s sociology. The Brother is made curious by the human race, and his exploration is to the benefit of social introspection.
In keeping with John Sayles’ canon, The Brother From Another Planet possesses a distinctive, if sublime, political agenda. Because its principle character is an embellished creation, he serves to exaggerate peoples’ intolerance – fundamentally, he is the most removed of Sayles’ characters. As the title successfully implies, the film is like a cartoon, only with social concern in lieu of the comedy the scenario suggests.