‘K-PAX’ is not necessarily a huge throwback, but it’s a classic piece of science fiction that I think is overlooked far too often, that’s why it’s the subject of  Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s column dedicated to the great science fiction of the past.

Now, I know a lot of you think “K-PAX? That crappy Kevin Spacey movie about the guy who eats bananas whole?” Well, first of all, how dare you. There is no such thing as a crappy Kevin Spacey movie. And yes, he does eat a whole banana… like skin and all.

In any case, ‘K-PAX’ is favorite movie of mine for many, many reasons, though I’ll only take a little of your time to list some of its greater aspects, such as its introduction of the alien and its dependence on the autonomy of the audience.

So, let’s start from the beginning, though, shall we?

prot (his name is not capitalized in the book) shows up in a train station from out of nowhere, and somehow manages to get himself arrested and then placed in a mental hospital where the people think he is a bit… well, crazy… on account of him claiming he’s  an alien from outer space. The movie follows the journey of his therapist, who is slowly convinced by what everyone else sees as delusions, and in the end, the audience, and the characters are wondering, “was he really an alien?”

prot’s description of the alien is one the highlights of the movie, as he details societies foreign to humans, and provides useful insights on how our culture works. His otherness is so complete that he makes the therapist, and indeed the audience, feel like the real other, or the one that thinks differently. Maybe we should all eat bananas whole, you start to think. However, the backstory on the body he is inhabiting intersects all of the key points in his space travel. So despite his mathematical genius and knowledge of things only a small amount of experts would be able to guess at, there is this niggling worry that maybe he’s just a smart man with a troubled past that forced him to disassociate himself.

And that’s what I mean by the autonomy of the audience. ‘K-PAX’ is never insulting to its watchers. It presents all the evidence and then ends without ever impinging on the right of the audience member to decide the conclusion. Is he an alien? Or a man who can’t cope with a tragic past?

I tell you what though… it’s been over ten years, and even I’m not sure. I vacillate with each watching, though I usually lean towards alien.

If you haven’t seen, or read ‘K-PAX’, get on it. You won’t regret it.