Film Review: Another Earth

(Published on Lost In The Multiplex and in Issue 5 of my publication In Retrospect)

Directed by award-winning documentary maker Mike Cahill, Another Earth is a sci-fi fantasy drama that premiered at the 27th Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

After celebrating getting into a prestigious university, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) drives home intoxicated. Hearing on the radio that an earth-like planet has been found and can be seen in the sky, she glances into the sky when her car collides into another, killing a mother and her son and leaving the father in a coma. Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison by which point the planet has been identified as a parallel world to our own, and is close enough to see in detail. One night, Rhoda visits the man, John Burroughs (William Mapother), who survived the accident with an intention to apologise to him. Losing her nerve at the last-minute, she instead poses as a maid, asking to clean his house as part of a trial service. John doesn’t know who Rhoda is because her name was kept anonymous during the trail. Letting her into his home, a romantic connection begins to evolve. But how long can she keep her real identity from him?

As the debut feature from director Cahill, Another Earth is an outstanding and admirable film that looks at the possibility of a parallel planet mirroring Earth. More drama than sci-fi, this take on the fantasy genre focuses on two characters whose lives cross paths during a tragic accident and continues to look at the subsequent decisions they are forced to make. The theme of second chances is emphasised by an opportunity to travel to ‘Earth 2’, one of few things we are made to consider as the two characters get closer and closer. Not only does it make us question whether the other versions of these characters may have made better choices, it also makes us question what we would do if we were in the same situation.

And that’s exactly what writers director Mike Cahill and lead actress Brit Marling intended, developing the idea out of speculation as to what it would be like if one were to encounter one’s own self. Only a few weeks ago we were told of an ‘Earth-like planet’ that was recently discovered by NASA (talk about timing!), which I’m sure has made many of us question the possibility of an alternative reality. With the release of Lars von Trier’s highly acclaimed Melancholia as well, Another Earth had a lot to live up to. But whilst it may not have been scientifically accurate, it leaves you feeling much more optimistic than Melancholia even attempts, and Marling’s youthful character makes it accessible to a wider audience.

The film is at this high standard through its two main characters, who both impress and excel throughout. At first, I found it strange that Mapother, most recognisable for his role as Ethan Rom in Lost, was playing a lead character, thinking it would be hard to relate to him. Fortunately, Mapother makes just as good of a genuine, albeit broken and depressed, being then he does a creepy ‘Other’, and I’m glad that we got to see this side of his acting. Marling, as well, is purely brilliant. The two complement each other extremely well, which initially comes as a surprise, helping the audience to find them both believable and easy to sympathise with.

However, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the film; scenes are often short with large gaps between small conversations and the occasional narrative from Rhoda. This plays as an advantage, though, as in between these infrequent exchanges of words is a beautifully composed soundtrack, which often helps to tell the story. Rhoda is said to be the Cello and John the Piano. You can hear these instruments play on their own when either characters are on-screen, and then when they are together the instruments play out-of-sync as they try to connect. This soundtrack is a large part of the film, which also includes a significant scene where John performs the musical saw to Rhoda (originally played by Natalia Paruz the ‘Saw Lady’ who commented on my Twitter), again emphasising this use of instruments.

Made on a $200,000 budget, which Mapother worked on for only $100 a day, Cahill filmed Another Earth it his hometown of New Haven. Rodah’s house was the house Cahill grew up in, and he used local friends and relatives for favours to help reduce the cost of filming. In some indie films, this would have been obvious, but this didn’t affect Another Earth in a negative way. In fact, I think this only benefited the film, which made most of its budget back in its first week of release.

Named one of the Top 10 Independent Films of the year from the National Board of Review, Another Earth will definitely be included in my own Top 15 list, which I will publish at the end of the month. This is undoubtedly worth the watch, and so is the trailer below:

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