If you met yourself, what would you say?
Another Earth, an inherently minimalistic science fiction-infused drama film, uses mind-boggling questions like that and the existence of a second planet Earth to probe the human condition. Less science fiction than you might believe, Another Earth focuses more on the relationship between a bright young but crumbling girl and the husband of the family she killed in a car accident.
And while we’ve certainly seen stories similar in nature before, where a person tries to redeem themselves in the eyes of another they hurt, New Haven, Conn. native Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, who co-wrote the film, utilize the idea of there another Earth, where our cities are their cities and where we each have a doppleganger of our own, to give the film a hint of panic, paranoia and wonder.
Cahill, who directs Marling as Rhoda Williams, a college-aged girl who killed two and seriously injured another in an accident, in a starkly shot film chock full of beautiful imagery. Cahill uses a technique that really amplifies the character’s emotions, although some of the shots and sequences seem too forced and too manipulative of the viewer’s feelings, as if they only exist because Cahill wants you to feel a certain way. They aren’t subtle in any way. But despite that, Another Earth is an absolutely beautiful film. And most of that beautiful imagery happens to be located locally in the New Haven area, where Cahill opted to direct the film to save money. He made use of West Haven High School and his childhood home to reduce spending.
Superimposing a captivating image of another Earth that sits closer to us than our very own moon, Cahill instills a sense of awe and absolutely amazement in each and every one of the images that projects this other planet. The film is clearly low budget, but by relying heavily on a minimalist attitude to show the story between only a few characters, this other earth sitting high in the sky doesn’t seem too fake. It all feels very real, and brings the story up to much more full scale.
But Cahill and Marling’s story isn’t about this other world hanging in the sky. While it absolutely has an impact on the film, the existence of the other Earth, or Earth 2 as the denizens of Earth refer to it, is merely the breeding ground for the chilling and riveting story between Rhoda and John Burroughs (William Mapother), the husband and father of the woman and boy she killed while driving home drunk from a party four years before their moments together. Cahill and Marlin focus their story’s intent on the two’s budding relationship that begins under false pretenses and the human philosophy that comes from the idea that another you that grew up doing the exact same things as you sits millions of miles away in space, and the idea that maybe, just maybe, a second chance could be had on Earth 2.
There are a number of jarring dialogue-driven scenes in Another Earth, perhaps none better than the close encounters between Rhoda and John. Rhoda’s character is complex enough to drive the film into a favorable category. She’s a loner, confused and trying to set herself on a straight path of redemption, but it all becomes unraveled when she doesn’t find the ability to tell the truth. Rhoda, and her relationship with John, absolutely carries the film to its end. Marling’s performance is subtle and bold, a truly breakthrough performance for 2011.
And so while a second planet Earth sits dangling above the heads of Another Earth‘s characters, it isn’t the film’s boiling point. It exists simply as a probe, a discussion piece. And rightfully so. This isn’t truly a science fiction film and Cahill and Marling’s film is better for it. They’re two talents, both behind the camera, with a pen and on the screen that should be paid attention to.