ANOTHER EARTH, 2011
Stars: Brit Marling, William Mapother and Jordan Baker
On the night of the discovery of a duplicate planet in the solar system, an ambitious young student and an accomplished composer cross paths in a tragic accident.
The Greek philosopher Philolaus once theorized there was a mirror Earth orbiting the Sun opposite us, an Earth exactly like us, filled with people exactly the same as us, living our lives. That's a pretty esoteric subject for a drama about life and death, and someone who can pull that off without getting eaten alive with their own philosophical musings will have outdone a lot of Hollywood science fiction.
First time director Mike Cahill and co-writer/star Brit Marling have just about managed it with their Sundance darling "Another Earth." A tendency towards vagueness where it does more harm than good is one of the few things that hamper a contemplative drama that is actually about human drama.
Rhoda Williams (Marling) is a young woman with a bright future in front of her as an astrophysics student, a future that seems likely to include the strange new planet just discovered near our own and able to support life. But instead of four years at MIT, Rhoda spends four years in prison nursing a crushing case of guilt after her obsession with the strange planet – and more than a little alcohol – causes her to kill the family of a promising music professor (William Mapother) in a traffic accident.
"Another Earth" is undoubtedly science fiction, to much of the plot and theme revolve around the idea of the clone-Earth drifting ever closer throughout the film, but it's the kind of science fiction that never gets made. It's ultimately film not of ideas, though it has plenty, but of people. In the way the best dramas do, "Another Earth" is ultimately about the connections between human beings. Our fight to reach out to people we should seemingly have no way to relate to. It's the great hope of existence and ultimately that's what "Another Earth" is about: hope.
After being released from prison Rhoda seeks out Professor Burroughs to try and in some way apologize for what she has done. Instead she finds herself pretending to be a professional maid and helping him, however slowly and in however a way she can, to get his life back in order after what she did to him.
The only thing really holding the film back, like its protagonists, are time and experience. Partly because it is a film of ideas it often substitutes vagueness where nuance is needed, putting its audience on the spot to guess what may or may not be going on with the characters. Even more often it will substitute visuals where even vagueness would be good, aiming for pure cinema in a film which won't support that sort of thing. Even in a 90-minute film, all but the most involved audiences are going to be tempted with restlessness in a film that above all else requires concentration.
The result is interesting characters who are infuriatingly ill-defined, because the filmmakers either can't or won't, in a movie crying out definition. It's a common symptom of early filmmaking which hopefully "Another Earth's" talented creators will learn how to deal with. Some further the development of the replicate Earth concept would have helped as well; as much potential as is realized is equally squandered.
Still it's got its head and its heart in the right place. "Another Earth" is a vibrant piece of human drama that embraces both parts of that equation and produces something exciting and relevant. That's pretty good for a first try and hopefully the next go round will be even better.
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