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The Penitent Man, a Movie Review

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


“The Penitent Man” is a low budget 2010 time travel movie. It wrestles with many ideas and issues a number of warnings about the future. What are the pros and cons of this scifi movie?

Pros of “The Penitent Man”

Lance Henriksen gives an amazing performance in this. It is great to see him still doing science fiction movies long past the end of the “Aliens” franchise.

The symbolism of gods and fate are laced throughout the movie. In the symbology, the movie does it well. Other visuals are excessive like the early “I know I’m a genius and you should, too, by all the books by geniuses that I obviously read” in the bedroom.

Strikes against “The Penitent Man”

Too many tropes like “wake up from a coma and give dramatic exposition” and “relying on the blind/nearly blind for clear vision of reality” weaken the movie. The wise character, Ovid, has one bad fake eye, so he’s not totally blind like many wise counselors that supposedly see what the rest of us don’t.

Lots of dialogue does not necessarily mean a film is bad. “The Man from Earth” is entirely conversation between friends with an ending encounter that strongly suggests his story is true. Penitent Man, though, is weaker on character development and performance.

The movie outlines multiple time travel theories. It either doesn’t allow changes, allows changes with new timelines spawned while the original continues to exist, returns toward its original flow despite the intervention or time travel can only happen if the trip is circular (the time travel only happens because it is already part of history). And it actually explains these in simple terms and analogies without too many vague warnings, though it has many of those, too.

The movie is an hour and a half, and it would have benefited from removing another 15-20 minutes of repetitive dialogue.

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Like the movie “The Sound of My Voice”, “The Penitent Man” leaves you wondering if the star is delusional or actually a time traveler, though the very beginning strongly favors the second conclusion.

I wonder if the premise is really as realistic as the movie makes it. As revelations of corruption and abuse have come out, from the abuse at the Magdalene Laundries to Clinton Foundation half-billion dollars worth of money laundering and corruption, genetic evidence of multi-regional evolutionary theory to Wikileaks, society has adapted in response to each scandal, though sometimes with serious disruption to one group. That said, society dealing with the truth on everything from historical events to non-paternal events is something we could probably deal with and eventually come to terms with. While you might trigger some religious wars by saying X religious figures weren’t holy, we’re already dealing with that with the spread of liberal secularism – scientific evidence to further those views isn’t going to dramatically ramp it up.

Given that, the movie suggests that such revelations cause people to give up on the future. But the device doesn’t say you can’t view the future, only the past, so there is no reason to give up on the future. In fact, you could take those now known facts, history put to rest, and move on.

Another problem with the premise is that just because you know how humanity gets to this point, it doesn’t solve all problems whether food distribution, ecological problems, power and clean water for the bottom billions, the new antibiotics we need. Living in the past doesn’t solve the problems of today, but it also doesn’t hinder those who decide to learn from those history lessons to improve the future.

The other mistaken view in this movie is the liberal bias that Christians are Taliban in waiting, ready to become terrorists. The time traveler says Christian evangelicals became violent in response to the discovery, when recent and ancient history demonstrates it would be Muslims who took such action. Then there’s the fact that a religious group ignoring such technology would have little impact on their society; they can simply ignore its findings and continue to act based on faith.

If you want a movie based on a good story on personal time travel, “All You Zombies” and the movie “Predestination” that actually adds another time travel layer/loop over it is a better choice.


“The Penitent Man” is a rich personal narrative heavy story of implied time travel. There are many small biases and screaming symbolism that detract from the movie. Its premise is well traveled by other movies, and while it isn’t one of the best in this genre, it isn’t one of the worst low budget time travel movies, either.

I read, write and review science fiction and horror.

I read, write and review science fiction and horror.

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