After ditching his ailing spacecraft in the Hudson River The Brother – an alien in black human form – arrives in Harlem, where the earthlings are puzzled by his inability to communicate and intrigued by his ‘magical’ powers. But he gets on well enough – until he finds an intergalactic posse on his tail. An entertaining mixture of sci-fi and acute social observation, glued together with humour.
USA 1984, 108 minutes
After ditching his ailing spacecraft in the Hudson River The Brother, an alien looking remarkably like a Black human, washes up on the shores of Ellis Island, where he feels the presence of all the thousands of terrestrial aliens who passed through there before him. He makes his way to a neighbourhood bar in Harlem, where the earthlings are intrigued by his apparently magical powers and accept him, despite his peculiarities. He makes friends, gets a job if not a green card and discovers, among other things, jazz, mugging and drugs. But he’s not to be left in peace in his new life: the intergalactic bounty hunters are after him, intent on taking him back to Somewhere Else.
One of The Brother’s peculiarities is that he can’t speak, although he understands anything said to him, in whatever language. He communicates with expression and gesture – a challenge for him and also for Joe Morton, who plays him: both cope extraordinarily well. His silence also makes him a sounding-board for others: they don’t so much talk to him as to themselves, revealing their thoughts and attitudes more openly because what they say won’t be challenged or repeated. Like someone being interviewed for a documentary who speaks to the microphone or the camera, forgetting the intelligence behind it, and revealing, to The Brother and to us, more than they intended.
The film has been described as ‘structurally open’ – which may be a polite way of saying it’s a bit of a mishmash and that some characters are introduced one minute and disappear the next. It’s a science fiction film with some deliberately cheap- and-cheerful special effects (it was shot in four weeks on a very small budget). It’s a thriller, a comedy of manners, a satire with documentary touches, glued together with humour but with no real attempt to integrate its elements. It’s about race, society, freedom, evil, drugs and communication. In the end, however, it’s about sticking by your neighbour. And the answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’ may still be some kind of alien.
The Brother – Joe Morton
Sam Prescott – Tom Wright
Randy Sue – Caroline Aaron
Little Earl – Herbert Newsome
Men in Black – John Sayles, David Strathairn
Producers – Peggy Raiski, Maggie Renzi
Director/Screenplay – John Sayles
Photography – Ernest R Dickerson
Music – Mason Daring
- “Best of the season! Really good photography plus a snazzy story.”
- “Very enjoyable, free thinking & well crafted.”
- “Weird but quite gripping.”
- “Kept its appeal almost to the end but then tailed off. Mostly very enjoyable, though.”
- “One of the oddest so far & where the sub-titles when we needed them?”
- “A few good moments; good humour; plot was unintelligible; bad ending.”
- “Good idea but it lost the plot…”
- “I suppose it is just possible we may see a dafter film – but I doubt it!”
- “God Bless America!”