DIRECTED BY: Mike Cahill
WRITTEN BY: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
STARRING: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Matthew-Lee Erlbach, D.J.Flava
RUNNING TIME: 92 mins
DISTRIBUTED BY: Fox Searchlight Pictures
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Rhoda Williams is a high school student fascinated by Astronomy who has been recently accepted to MIT [Massachusetts Institute Of Technology]. She celebrates with friends and drives home intoxicated. Listening to a story on the radio about an approaching planet that looks just like Earth, she looks out her car window up to the stars and inadvertently slams her car through a stopped car at an intersection, putting John Burroughs in a coma and killing his wife and son. After serving her six year prison sentence, Rhoda becomes a school cleaner and visits John to apologise, but loses her nerve and instead poses as a maid offering a free day of cleaning. Meanwhile people are fighting to get on to the space ship that will visit Earth 2 [as they call it] and there is a competition offering free tickets……………
Another Earth is a film that will probably frustrate a great many people. Though certainly ‘science fiction’, it’s more of a human drama with metaphysical and philosophical elements, with the science fiction as a background for much of the film. It’s also something of a puzzler which will probably make you scratch your head for quite a while. The closest movie this year I can compare it to is the similarly polarizing Tree Of Life, though of course Another Earth is a very tiny budget movie by comparison. There were moments where I got a little frustrated with the film, but overall, if you have patience and don’t expect lots of action, special effects etc., you may find it quite rewarding. I came out of the cinema thinking intently about what I had seen, and, though I think the movie could have been better in some areas, I have a feeling that it will stay with me and will me even more rewarding on a second viewing.
Of course the idea of two people becoming close, one unaware the other did them a grevious wrong, is hardly a new concept; Bounce, Stuck and others have dealt with it, but this movie does it with a great deal of reality; you really believe the characters and their actions. You know there is eventually going to be the scene where Rhoda tells all to John, but John’s reaction is totally believable. I will say that much of this moves at a snail’s pace, and I wanted more of the film to be about the ‘Earth 2’ sub-plot, but never mind, I admire the writer/director Mike Cahill and his co-writer Brit Marling [who also stars] for ignoring expectations and having the guts to give us a very European-style human drama channelling the works of filmmakers like Krzysztof Kieslowski and Andrei Tarkovsky more than any American director. The matter of Earth 2 might be more in the background, but it’s still there, often literally. We spend much time with Rhoda outdoors, thinking, and the planet always looms in the background down at her, like God, watching from the Heavens, judging this human being who committed a dreadful act and is trying to atone for it. Eventually we have the obligatory ‘contact’ scene, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the creepiest scenes of the year.
Throughout, the movie has a dreamlike feel. The camera is often following Rhoda right up behind her, handheld and jerking. At other times it’s looking down at her from above. Scenes often employ disorientating editing. Despite it’s often intimate feel, Another Earth employs a wider range of cinema techniques than many other films I’ve seen this year and more experimentation. Eventually the story does reach a kind of climax, and sorry to say we never actually get to see Earth 2, or should I say never think we do, because there are many possible interpretations to the film and yours is probably just as valid as mine. In any case, the probable keeping of Earth 2 in our heads works best for the movie, because our minds can conjure up things in a way a film often just cannot match. The tale seems to partially resolve itself it, bringing forward the theme of redemption and adding one of self-sacrifice, and then, we have a completely puzzling ending. What does it mean? How you interpret it probably depends on whether you prefer to go for the scientific or the philosophical.
Brit Marlin is simply sensational in the lead role; she seems to have a very fresh, naturalistic acting style, often letting just a subtle expression speak more far more than any heavy emoting, and I think she will be a big star in the future. Co-star William Mapother seems a bit too creepy throughout. A big plus in Another Earth is the score by the band Fall On Your Sword, ranging from traditional ‘classical’ type scoring to techno-y ambient sounds, with several particular instruments, such as organ, guitar and violin, seemingly used to emphasise certain situations or re-occurring elements. There’s one really puzzling scene where John plays Rhoda really strange sounds with a violin bow and a buzz saw, and she seems to have images of a kind which I won’t describe but may be visions, or even flashbacks? There are other things which didn’t really work for me. A brief sex scene is just laughable, while I didn’t understand the role of the Indian co-worker, though it seems to have been important. The grain of some shots jarred with the beauty of others, though it’s possible that could not have been avoided. The more I think about this movie as I write this review though, the more I like it. It’s affecting and even powerful in a curiously understated way, and I expect truly great things from Cahill in the future.