Another Earth boasts an interesting premise: what if, quite literally, another Earth appeared before us? Bigger and closer than the moon, bearing the same landscape of the Earth, but alternatively, a different reality from our own. Of course, with an idea as intriguing as this one, almost inevitably, they’ll be asking many of the same metaphysical questions we often ask of ourselves, and the life we have before us. “What is reality?” “Is there anything out there waiting for us, god or otherwise?” “Who are we?” You get the idea. These questions have often been asked by films of the same ilk as well, such as Solaris (remake and original). Mike Cahill’s film is moody, transgressive, introverted, brutally honest and mind-bending, much like Soderbergh’s– which, in my eyes, sounds like a recipe for greatness. Each film carries their own sense of independence and individuality, though they share similar sentiments towards redemption and self-discovery. It doesn’t quite touch the masterstroke of Soderbergh’s film, but as far as modern science-fiction is concerned, this is certainly very good
Another Earth is not light-hearted or melodramatic; in fact, it’s pretty damn dire and no nonsense. Cahill has crafted a film more about mood and tone than anything else, though his script is well-written and thought-provoking. Rhoda Williams, played excellently by Brit Marling, is a very intelligent young girl whose interests in space leads her to an acceptance letter and scholarship to the prestigious Boston College. All of that is shattered in an instant, and the consequences are not only on her, but her actions shake the foundations of others’ lives. Intoxicated and behind the wheel, she overhears the radio talking about the discovery of a new planet, as she gazes up towards the night sky, she slams into another car. Shot with a dizzying, handheld aesthetic, the moments leading up to the collision are hypnotically dreamy. The collision itself is sudden, horrific and will likely leave you shaken. Rhoda stays at the scene, and is ultimately sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular homicide. When she’s finally released, the world has changed, and the Second Earth, as they call it, is closer than ever and perfectly visible.
As I said before, Cahill’s script is really strong–he mixes tension and subtle, minimalism very, very well. More specifically, the script never truly slows down to a crawl, but rather, it grows from within Rhoda. Cahill’s cinematography (yes he also did that, along with the editing) is sublime, as it captures the landscape and surreal nature extraordinarily well, as well as Rhoda’s inner turmoil–it’s all tinted with blues, like the ocean waters and sky. Driven by guilt and remorse, Rhoda takes up a job as a janitor at her former high school, despite the temp agency encouraging her to do something more. But, as her guilt worsens, she comes into contact with the sole survivor of the accident, who’s a composer and teacher at Harvard, John Burroughs. William Mapother, who plays the character, might be the only weak link in the film (his current state seems particularly exaggerated).
Though imperfect, Another Earth is undeniably a very good film with a lot of soul. There is something intensely personal about it, maybe it has something to do with Marling’s life, or Cahill’s, or perhaps they’ve shared similar circumstances. As preposterous as some of he script is, it’s difficult to say how much it really matters when in the face of such introspective filmmaking. Truthfully, he put together a film with many great elements, such as mixed media, a haunting soundtrack (reminiscent of Cliff Martinez’s Solaris) and a strong script led by Brit Marling’s stellar performance. Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s abundantly clear that Cahill set out to make a film about guilt, remorse, lost chances and people beaten down by existence. It may seem hopeless or relentlessly dreary, but, in this world, there might just be an inkling of hope for Rhoda and John, whether it be their reality, Earth One, or the alternate reality, Earth Two, because for them, it makes no difference.