For Briton Nicolas Roeg, filmmaking was about nailing dislocation and giving it the most improbable possible mood. Not surprisingly, he ran into all kinds of early censorship problems. Here, a man calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton is an alien from a planet dying of thirst. Incarnating desperation, he falls to Earth in search of water sources to save his family at home. Once afoot in the new world he meets Mary-Lou, who falls for his odd demeanor and hands him a drink. Bad idea.
The keys to Roeg’s kingdom, aside from arresting images, are David Bowie as Newton; an apt, occult choice, and Candy Clark, show-stopping as the lost Mary-Lou. In a nutshell, Earth corrupts Newton. Not knowing venality, greed, and drugs at home, he gets it on borrowed turf. He forgets his mission and becomes a debauched billionaire.
Roeg ingeniously flips common alien allegories on end. We’re the monster-makers. Though the story turns desperately ragged and self-indulgent toward the end, Roeg’s early work still conjures a bizarreness contemporaries were clueless to imitate.