Director Mike Cahill crafts a very emotional human drama with science fiction elements that manage to both act as a background to the film and act as a core element. Its Cahill’s focused direction and Brit Marling‘s stunning performance that helps make Another Earth something more. It’s far from just being a little independent film that tries to deal with emotion and sci-fi. It goes beyond the stars in terms of delivering a story, full of tragedy and regret. While the film isn’t for everyone, due to its relaxed pace, that sort of eases you into the characters, it makes it worthwhile for those willing to wait. Patience is rewarded in the end and a feeling of both awe and relief came over me when the end credits rolled. Awe because of the spectacle of emotions I just witnessed and relief because this film could have nosedived at several points, but it didn’t. It stuck to its roots of a character driven human drama and it never shied away from that purpose. It never tried to be more than it was and it certainly was a lot.
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a bright young individual who had her whole life ahead of her. That all changes on one night. A night that would change the world on a massive scale and yet two people on a very small and personal scale. Rhoda, like most students was partying and drinking. On her way home she turns up the radio to listen as it is announced that another planet has entered our solar system. Shocked of this announcement, she looks up into the stars to see this tiny planet, slowly drifting towards our own and then BOOM. Just like that, two lives are ended and two lives are drastically changed forever. She hits a car, with a man, his wife and their child. The wife and child are killed and the man is put into coma.
Four years later, Rhoda gets out of prison and has to live with this guilt, of killing a man’s family and causing him to drift into a downward spiral of depression. She gets a cleaning job at a local school and eventually finds her way to this man’s house. Her goal was to apologize for the event, but she can’t. Instead, she tries to bring happiness into his life and her own.
John Burroughs (William Mapother) is the man whose life she ruined. He sits at home all day and drinks, plays video games and tries to make something of whatever life he has left. It isn’t until Rhoda shows up under the disguise of a cleaning company that he begins to feel again. He really starts to live again and interact with another human being on a personal level. Rhoda makes him laugh, cry and get angry. She makes him feel alive again. The pivotal point in the film is when Rhoda enters a contest to win a trip to Earth 2. Would she go if she wins? Even after becoming friends with John and making him happy again.
The film follows Rhoda as she deals with these past events. From shots of her walking along the street, to her sitting out in the cold all alone, Another Earth is an emotional journey of one character and her attempt to wrong the rights of the past. She uses the cleaning of the schools and of John’s house as a way to cleanse the soul. She reminds herself every day of the mistakes she’s made and instead of sulking around and feeling bad for herself she really does attempt to make it better for John. I like that the director chose to tell the story on such a personal level. The camera rarely takes its eyes off of Rhoda throughout the whole film. It never tries to bring in too many characters. It strictly focuses on Rhoda, John and a few other characters such as Rhoda’s family and coworkers.
If Brit Marling isn’t a household name yet then I am convinced that Another Earth is going to change all of that. She is one talented actress and writer. I really appreciated her character and how real she was. Rhoda was smart, vulnerable and sexy all in one. It’s hard to focus a film around a female lead for some reason these days. It’s very rare that you see such an emotional performance from an actress in a science fiction film. And to know that the very woman that gave this performance was responsible for writing part of it is just icing on the cake. You can clearly tell that Brit Marling wanted to make an impact with Another Earth and she succeeded. Her dedication and work really does show in this film and I’m very curious to see what she has lined up next.
William Mapother is good in the role of John. He brings out that hopelessness very well and I really liked the bits of rage and anger that he displayed. Too often do we see characters with life changing events just kind of sit in the back and cry. They never let out that full on anger. I liked how the film never paints one of the characters as being a bad person, just flawed. Rhoda made a huge mistake when she killed John’s family, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to hate her. We feel bad for her to an extent, but we also feel bad for John having to lose his family and when John lets out this anger and rage on Rhoda you never see him as the bad guy or her as the bad girl, there just flawed people that made mistakes and are trying their best to deal with them.
Mike Cahill filmed Another Earth very low budget styled, mostly because it was a low budgeted film. I liked that he went with the more unconventional shots. The image was never full on bright or attractive colors, instead it had more of an uglier look to it, but beneath all of that ugliness was beauty. You would get an unsteady shot of Rhoda walking down a trash filled street that looked beat up and uncared for and then it would cut to her standing by the water looking up at this other world. It was very calm and very peaceful for an otherwise heavy film.
The whole science fiction element of the film was handled with just the right amount of precision. Another Earth had clear intentions of being a drama, with science fiction added in. It never strayed away from the task at hand just to give us a random glimpse of this other planet. I’ve always liked the idea of other dimensions with possible replicated worlds and while I think a full-fledged sci-fi adventure film would be great to explore another world, I liked that it focused on the characters.
While the film is really good due to its strong emotional punch that it packs, Another Earth does have a few problems. A few side characters felt unneeded and could have had their scenes cut without any impact on the overall film and I still think they could have infused more of the sci-fi elements with the film, without ruining the connection between the two leads. Mike Cahill mentioned that he shot a lot of footage for the sci-fi elements and that it will surface later on the home video release in some sort of deleted scenes feature, but I really think this film would have benefited from more of that sort of stuff. I’d really like to see how the Earth’s gravity changes while this new world gets closer and closer and how this new world would affect the way we live our everyday lives.
Overall, Another Earth is a simple film in terms of the story it presents, but it’s full of metaphors and deeper meaning to be had. What makes the film so great is how you choose to watch it. If you watch it simply as an indie sci-fi with some great performances then it works fine, but if you choose to peel back its layers and discover more meanings behind it then it only gets better. I landed somewhere in the middle. I liked things that it presented, but I didn’t feel the need to want to search for more connections. The characters are very real and the scenario of finding another planet out there is crazy stuff to tackle. Mike Cahill shows his directing skills with lots of great scenery and ambitious shots and Brit Marling shows her talent as both an actress and a writer. I strongly recommend the film to anyone looking for a science fiction film that has a real story that is both engaging and fresh. It deals with a lot of heavy material and it’s not going to brighten your day immediately, but it certainly is an interesting look at the cause and effect of the world around us.
Another Earth – 8/10