Fox Searchlight were quick to nab Another Earth after it won a host of awards at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. The debut film feature from Mike Cahill, who co-wrote the script with his leading lady Brit Marling, it’s the common story of ‘what if?’. With a distant planet encroaching our own, it is less apocalyptic than Lars von Trier’s visually magnificent depression drama Melancholia, but similarly gruelling and morose.
With it’s name and wooly premise, Another Earth is somewhat of a sci-fi maguffin movie, using the extra-terrestial ideas to tell a human tale of isolation and unlikely love.
The night a new planet appears in the night sky, a gifted young physicist student Rhoda (Brit Marling) drunkenly crashes her car into a family of three, with a mother and her young son killed. The only surviving is the lonesome dad, John (William Mapother), who gets off easy by being put into a coma. Four years after that fatal night, Rhoda is freed from prison, and wanders the street feeling depressed and lifeless. Lacking the courage to admit her crime to the now alive, and understandably tetchy John (who fails to recognise her for a huge chunk of the film), Rhoda turns into his housemaid and the pair form an unlikely, clandestine bond.
With the planet sinking deeper into our orbit, scientists soon realise that it is identical inevery way to our own: it’s a mirror Earth. Rhoda enters a competition in the hope of winning a seat on a Spaceship that is going to fly to the 2nd Earth so that she can escape the misery of her life and start a new one, but what about the love that’s right there in front of her?
Not only sharing similar themes as Tarkovskiy’s 1972 movie Solaris, Cahill embodies the same filming techniques as the Russian auteur, with intricate focus and close ups mirrored with expansive landscapes. It’s a style that is remarkably assured for a relatively newbie, and proves that, perhaps if he isn’t bogged down with scriptwriting, good prove to be something of a David Fincher-esque figure.
The big problem Another Earth arises when it forgets about the other Earth entirely. A problem of tone, tension about metaphysics and a parralel universe builds for thirty minutes, only for Cahill and Marling to push Earth 2 into the background (much like the omniscient moon it is eclipsing), and focus on the complex, subtly Freudian relationship between Rhoda and the man she made a widower, John, only to pull back the science themes as a nice way to tie up the film’s end. Not denying the pair’s acting chops and chemistry but, even to a mere science fiction dilettante like myself, it’s frustrating to see such a drastic shift in tone and the promising, if a little derivative premise go on abused. Topping it all off, the final gotcha! moment is a fanciful cheapshot after the heavy-hearted movie we’ve had to endure.
With artistic, slightly sporadic direction, and two very good central performances from the ever-underappreciated Mapother and ‘star in the making’ Marling, Another Earth is an ambitious American indie that just manages to strike a chord, even with some major problems.. It’s a little emo, but don’t let that get you down.