Review: Another Earth (12A) / Director: Mike Cahill / Screenplay by: Mike Cahill, Britt Marling / Starring: Britt Marling, William Mapother, Matthew lee-Erlbach / Release Date: Out Now
Talk about bad timing. Promising young student Rhoda Williams (Marling) is out at night drinking whilst drunk and is, not surprisingly, a bit distracted when a mirror-image planet Earth suddenly appears in the sky.
So startled is Rhoda that she loses control of the car and she ploughs into another vehicle, killing two of the occupants. Rhoda is jailed for four years and the accident survivor, music professor John Burroughs (Mapother), is left comatose, his pregnant wife and son dead. Emerging from prison an introverted, nervy changed woman, Rhoda wants to slink into the shadows and she takes a mundane job as a cleaner at the local school. But a chance close encounter with the grieving Burroughs persuades Rhoda to at least try to make amends for the devastation she’s wrought but her attempts are fraught with complications when she finds herself posing as a domestic cleaner, unable to tell Burroughs the truth. As her presence in his life starts to ease the professor out of his despair, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity forces Rhoda to confront herself and her past head-on and she has some life-changing decisions to make.
It might not sound like it, but there’s a big, solid sci-fi concept throbbing away at the heart of ‘Another Earth’ and while it’s only explored in the broadest and most allegorical of manners (the film’s not concerned with what would be the physical effects of such close proximity with a planet the same size as our own or the psychological consequences for humanity of Earth 2’s discovery) it informs every frame of this moody, melancholic and proudly lo-fi indie movie. To all intents and purposes this is a two-hander, two characters both devastated by the same tragedy, two characters still trying to understand and make sense of what’s happened years after the event. But where Rhoda at least has a shot at redemption and the chance of a new life - albeit a rather less starry one than she might have been expecting as an MIT student - John Burroughs has lost everything, even the will to live, and he’s become a grubby, listless recluse when Rhoda inveigles her way into his life and slowly but surely starts to turn him around. In the background there’s constant media chatter about Earth 2 - what will it be like? How can we communicate with it? The film doesn’t explain why it’s taken four years to make contact with the planet - when it’s made it’s through a simple radio transmission where the mirror-image nature of the planet and its occupants is revealed - and the conceit of a competition where the prize is a seat on a shuttle to the new planet seems a bit unlikely when no-one has any real idea what the planet’s actually like. But ‘Another Earth’ isn’t hugely bothered with such relative inconsequentialities; the film needs Rhoda to become obsessed with Earth 2 because of what it’s done to her, it needs her to want to leave her world behind and travel to another one, particularly when she realises, on watching a late-night TV broadcast, that Earth 2, identical as it may be, might possibly offer a ’road not travelled’ alternative.
Like last month’s ’Take Shelter’, this is a raw and intelligent indie movie which takes some big ideas and grounds them in a four-square real world populated not with super-heroes in tights but with ordinary folk trying to deal with something extraordinary. The script is tight and economic, the performances from both Marling, a strikingly-attractive girl and a name to watch - wait till Hollywood gets its hands on her - and Mapother are spectacularly persuasive and compelling. The jagged, handheld cinematography gives the film a bold and sometimes uncomfortable intimacy and the simple visual image of the duplicate Earth hanging in the sky gazing balefully down upon its twin is effortlessly effective. It’s not often this reviewer’s neck-hairs are forced to stand to attention but there’s a sequence in ‘Another Earth’ where Burroughs takes Rhoda to a small concert hall and performs a beautiful and haunting piece of music with a most unusual instrument which will remain with me for some time.
Refreshingly simple and honest as it handles big emotional and fantastical subjects, ‘Another Earth’ is an enchanting and rewarding little movie, another win for the indie sector as the big studios go round and round in circles obsessed with remaking and rebooting and squeezing every last penny from even the most exhausted of franchises. ‘Another Earth’ is a movie to cherish.
Expected rating: 6 out of 10