Another Earth

Director: Mike Cahill Runtime: 92 mins

Review by Bill Harrington

How would you react to the sight of an alternative earth and moon appearing, without warning, in the sky? I'm certain I would react far more  hysterically than the main characters of Another Earth, a Sundance Film Festival award winner in which this occurrence of inconceivable enormity serves as a catalyst for them to reflect on the direction of their lives and the choices they make.

This new Earth's appearance is in fact the trigger for the event that calamitously brings the leads together. Driving home from celebrating her admission to MIT, Rhoda is distracted by the news of Earth 2's arrival.

Striving to see it from her car window, she crashes into a stationary car, killing the family of John Burroughs and leaving him critically injured. Following a 4 year prison sentence, she is released back into the community a haunted soul. She eschews the offer of work befitting her academic ability, preferring to scrub and mop away nagging guilt as the janitor of a local school. Drawn to the site of the fateful crash she one day witnesses the survivor, Burroughs, leave a toy at the spot in memory of his child.

Now equipped with knowledge of the person whose life she has destroyed, she inveigles her way into his home and his life with the aim of paying for her misdeed by helping him out of his terminal malaise. All the while the second Earth glows bright above, and an Australian entrepreneur runs a global competition for a place on the first spacecraft to venture out to this new but familiar world.

Another Earth has a science fiction premise but the film is mainly concerned with very human themes of redemption and loss. The hard science of what would happen were a mirror earth to appear within the solar system, ie -catastrophe, is not explored. The twin earth serves as a symbol of another life, another route, and an ever present reminder that things can always be very different, in a story where for both main characters that is the thing to be most wished for. Both Rhoda and Burroughs are near damaged beyond repair on this world, and tragically what is evident could save them both, their togetherness, is impossible to reconcile. Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film, and William Mapother are at first terse, barely communicative with each other. The first thawing of their relationship comes, amusingly, through playing Wii boxing together. They break down each other's barriers and slowly become close. Their courtship is awkward, cautious, touching and rounded by tragedy. It is sensitively played by the lead actors.

There's much to admire about director Mike Cahill's original take on a love story, and the film has met with significant praise, but it is not without its faults. Sometimes it seems to try too hard to be meaningful. There are abundant shots of Rhoda walking contemplatively through the landscape, to the point they feel overdone. A sub-plot featuring Rhoda's school colleague puzzled this viewer. On occasion there are arbitrary uses of different film stock, for no fathomable reason. There is some conjecture of how those on the other Earth view us and view themselves - the question is asked "can we really think they refer to themselves as Earth 2?". It's an interesting idea which is slightly demeaned by the logical but unconvincing resolution and the rather pat twist.

Back on the positive side there are some beautifully framed wide shots amongst the intimate moments. The Earth has seldom looked lovelier than it has shimmering over its own surface. A memorable scene where this planet's representative makes first radio contact with Earth 2, and finds herself conversing with her alternative self is both touching and unnerving.

Despite its faults it's a mature attempt at examining familiar themes through an original prism, and it's better that it sometimes struggles to juggle all its ideas than to have no ideas at all. Mapother (Tom Cruise's cousin, I'm reliably informed) is convincingly prickly and Marling's future work both as actor and writer will be worth keeping an eye on.

Finally, in a potential publicity coup that surely no-one could have foreseen, the discovery of a planet (Kepler-22b) with similar life-supporting properties as our own has been announced on this morning's news. Whoever is doing the publicity for this film must be very influential indeed.

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