Another Earth (2011)

Directed by Mike Cahill
Written by Brit Marling & Mike Cahill

When you close your eyes, what do you see? Do you see the past, the happy times that once were, or perhaps the rough times? Do you see the future, the things you wish might happen, all your hopes and dreams come true? Do you see beautiful images, or painful ones? Do you hear music, or silence? There is a scene in the film Another Earth where one character prompts the other to close his eyes while telling a story and the gambit of possibilities ran through my mind and the audience saw a few on screen. Imagine if there were another earth, exactly the same as this one, where there was another you. What would that mean?

Well to be honest the film touches on this phenomenon, but it really just uses it as a backdrop for the real story about mistakes and retribution and living in a life you never imagined for yourself. Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a bright young girl who has just been accepted into MIT at the age of 17. She loves the heavens so when she hears of another earth, she loses her focus, already inebriated, while driving her car, driving it into another at a stop sign, killing the wife and son of Yale music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother), who is sent into a coma. After being released from prison four years later, Rhoda moves back home and begins a janitorial job at her old high school. She soon approaches John, who recently awoke from his coma and who never knew who she was, in an attempt to confront her mistake, but instead they strike up an unlikely relationship as they both attempt to come out of the tailspin which the accident caused both of them.

This film received its share of buzz when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year and I was somewhat intrigued by the possibilities of a film about another earth, but the sci-fi element is really downplayed in this film, which allows director Mike Cahill to tell the tale he wants to, which is one of broken redemption. I was curious to learn that the film was co-written by its director and its star, Brit Marling, who gives an outstanding performance in the lead role. Her Rhoda is a successful young lady until the accident which not only sobers her personality, but also seems to quiet her ambition. Marling gives a timid, quiet touch to the character which comes across really strong. Her opposite however, William Mapother, is not as good, but since the story is told from Rhoda’s perspective, I was still able to buy the awkward relationship because her motives and reservations are communicated really well by Cahill.

At first the visuals of the film were something of a distraction. I was not digging the handheld digital look of the film, but I soon settled into the style and while I don’t think it did the film any favors, I do think Cahill, who also acted as cinematographer, was able to get some really nice shots. He was also able to get some really great scenes from his actors and the story. The biggest problem with the film was that it was at times inconsistent and went in directions I did not care for too much. The relationship between Rhoda and John is awkward by its very nature, but some of it still felt out of place. The film was able to put me in a mood I never expected, and more importantly it made me think, but not about whether there was another earth or what I would do if there were.

While gaining good buzz out of Sundance, I have also heard negative buzz as well, with its detractors citing the astronomical implausibility of the plot, but I think they missed the point because that is not the plot. Sure it may be impossible and there are some scientific questions skipped over, but as a piece of fiction, I will always be able to overlook these things. Instead I focused on the great mood set by the filmmaking, the great performance by Brit Marling, the interesting visuals, the good score, and most importantly, the fascinating allegory Earth 2 provides, its true purpose in the film. Rhoda was at once successful with a bright future in front of her, only the realize in an instant that her life would never be the same. The film is about her struggle to deal with the fact that she can’t have what she once thought was her’s, but that she still has to fight for it, and it did it well. Who cares why the tides didn’t change?


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