First time director Mike Cahill filmed Another Earth on a tight budget, as most indie films do, however never have I seen an indie film that has made me sit down, pause at certain moments, and take a long time to truly understand the message.
From the trailers we know that another Earth, Earth II as they call it in the film, has suddenly appeared, changing the lives of everyone on the planet. This story, written by lead actress Brit Marling and director Mike Cahill, does not do much with its sci-fi setting. Instead of focusing on the whys of the second planet, the film hones in on a specific tale of a young girl who makes a tragic mistake, and her ability to right those wrongs.
On the night the second planet appears in the sky, Rhoda Williams was driving under the influence and smashed her car into another, sending John Burroughs into a coma and killing his wife, son, and unborn daughter. Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison and wants to make amends. The second Earth is the catalyst for most of the events in Another Earth, but it never goes further into the sci-fi elements of its plot. While this isn’t necessarily a hindrance to the film, when small details are thrown out (like the second Earth was in synchronistic orbit around the sun which is why we never saw it) the drama breaks and I was left wondering why they would take heed of some details, but never mention others.
When another Earth appears in the sky with the same geography, same cities, even the same people; Earth I’s population begins to wonder: “Has the other me made the same mistakes I have?” Brilliantly, in almost every scene the second Earth is looming over Rhoda, it almost appears to be pressuring her to make a decision, to change her life for the better or worse. The second Earth is a constant, always present reminder of what Rhoda has done.
Brit Marling is a fantastic actress, to say the least. Brit is able to express a plethora of emotion in the most minute of glances. As Rhoda she needs to be able to play such a wide range, and does it without saying much at all. Many times I was drawn into her eyes, striving to understand what it was she was thinking, this could have been due to my curiosity, or to the fact that if there was ever a moment when she was within her mind, the camera would zoom directly towards her face. Either way, there is no denying Brit Marling has the acting chops to play such a silent, but important role.
William Mapother of Lost fame plays John Burroughs, the man who lost his family. Mapother’s acting is best when he is silent, or stone faced whilst speaking. There are times when he becomes angry and I never felt there was enough build up in his performance to match that anger. Not to say he isn’t a capable actor, because he very much is, but it seems like the camera focus was more on Brit Marling in these scenes and so the buildup couldn’t be shown.
There are great parts to Another Earth, but the film, as a whole, isn’t as tightly connected as I would have liked. Some scenes tend to drift or end on abrupt notes; there is also a plot thread involving a janitor that doesn’t make much sense, but pulls Rhoda’s story forward. During most scenes it will either be silent tension, or starved drama. I’m not against heavy drama, but for some reason, Another Earth didn’t grab me as much as I would have liked. Maybe it was because some of those scenes felt formulaic (like when she accidently washed a sweater she shouldn’t have). There are also flaws within its sci-fi and the only reason why they stand out is the scenes in which they explain some detail that isn’t needed, while completely passing over the more obvious ones. The Twilight Zone does the same thing, but doesn’t call much attention to it.
Another Earth is a film I have a hard time recommending to everyone. It took me a while to come to terms with what it was trying to achieve, and I think it was successful. It has flaws, but so do people. The film focuses more on the people rather than the sci-fi, almost as if it was an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. If you like indie films I’d say give it a chance because when Another Earth does things right, it shines.
The Good: Brit Marling is fantastic.
The Bad: Drama feels contrived in a few scenes.
The Ugly: A second Earth appears and gets dramatically closer in a short period of time. Despite this, there are no causes for alarm when the two planets will inevitably smash together, nor is there any effect on the climate with this planet closer than the moon.
Score: 7.5 out of 10