By Brian Lafferty
January 11, 2012 (San Diego) – Another Earth was the first of two films released in 2011 about the discovery of another planet; the other one was Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Both films delve deep into the lives of their troubled characters and contain some of 2011’s best performances. I liked Another Earth just slightly better because it uses the other planet to show how the discovery of Earth 2, and its possible parallels to this Earth, affects the lives of its characters.
Seventeen year-old Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is an extremely intelligent young lady who just got accepted to MIT. She has a bright future ahead of her. She tragically chucks it all when she kills the wife and son of a notable musician named John Burroughs (William Mapother, who Lost fans may remember well as Ethan Rom) in a DUI accident. After several years in prison, and now a felon, she tries to redeem herself by cleaning John’s house and befriending him. Unaware that she’s the one who killed his family (she was a minor at the time, so her name was sealed from all legal documents) he embarks on a love affair with her.
All of this takes place while the world becomes captivated by the discovery of Earth 2. It’s exactly like Earth, with the same continents, people, and technology.
To help you better appreciate Another Earth, I feel required to tell you what this movie is and what it is not.
Despite the perhaps misleading title, this movie is not about the other Earth. Fans of TV’s Fringe (myself a very avid one of them) and parallel universes, as well as people who need everything to be explained with no loose ends, will be disappointed to know that the movie never sets foot on Earth 2. It is also not a science fiction film.
Another Earth is, however, a humanistic drama about personal redemption for a troubled, emotionally wrecked young woman and an alcoholic, clinically depressed older man. It is about the uneasy relationship between these two tortured souls. It’s about how the discovery of this new planet affects and changes their lives. It makes them examine their current states; what if Rhoda on Earth 2 didn’t drink and drive that night? Was her bright future realized? If so, what steps could Rhoda on Earth 1 take to change her life for the better?
Brit Marling’s performance garnered her an award for Best Actress from the San Diego Film Critics Society. Rarely has guilt been so realistically portrayed and with such vitality. It’s powerful acting that’s subtle and constrained. She hides everything – her guilt, her feelings, her depression, everything – inside of her. She tries to keep the contents hermetically sealed. Her internal struggles result in one of 2011’s top performances.
In addition to directing, editing, and co-writing (with Brit Marling), Mike Cahill is also responsible for the cinematography. The film's intense lighting and its blue and grey colors is East Coast winter cinematography at its most illustrative. Looking at it made me feel chilly. He uses a full-array of tones; sometimes the image is bleached out like the dream sequence at the beginning of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Other times it doesn’t look bright enough. The action is filmed without a tripod; the handheld camera emulates Rhoda’s mentally shaken state of mind.
As I mentioned before, the movie does not actually visit Earth 2. That would have been a fatal mistake. The movie does something I wish many movies dared to do. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Cahill and Marling don’t want to tell you everything; they want you to come up with your own answers and interpretations. Ambiguity is not very marketable here in the United States. That’s too bad, because, as it does in Another Earth, it provokes more thought and allows for a bigger use of the imagination.
A 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment release. Director: Mike Cahill. Screenplay: Mike Cahill and Brit Marling. Original Music: Fall On Your Sword. Cinematography: Mike Cahill. Cast: William Mapother and Brit Marling. 92 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Brian Lafferty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.