Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is your average teenager, enjoying a night of partying with her friends after her recent acceptance to MIT for college. Like many teenagers, she drives herself home from the party, and just maybe she should have taken a cab. But it is not her inebriated state that will cause events that change her future forever but the news on the radio of the discovery of ‘another earth’ in the solar system. One that has just become visible in the night sky on her drive home. Peering out the window at the other Earth, that looks identical to our own, Rhoda is not paying attention to the road. The result is a fatal car crash between her and a vehicle carrying three passengers; the final result is Rhoda’s incarceration for the next four years.
Another Earth begins with the aforementioned tragedy, and then swiftly moves forward to the day Rhoda is released from jail to start her life over again. Plagued with considerable guilt over the accident she is unable to find a comfortable existence. Her relationship with her parent’s is strained, her brother is on the path she once foresaw for herself, and while she possesses a high level of intelligence she wants nothing to do with her intellect, and instead takes a job as a janitor at the local school. Another Earth is a character piece, conjoined with the constant science fiction backdrop over the other Earth’s existence. The science fiction angle is never adequately examined and remains a constant presence but not a strong influencer in the actions on screen. The main part it plays is the possibility of escape for Rhoda, a way to leave behind the life full of pain on her Earth for the possibility of another. The complication occurs in her meeting and growing close to John (William Mapother), the man whose family’s life she took in the fatal car crash.
While watching Another Earth is a completely enjoyable experience, thanks in part to the performances by the very talented William Mapother (John) and Brit Marling (Rhoda) it is a very routine and predictable film. Rhoda is awash with grief and must reconcile with herself and the man she hurt; as she goes about doing this it is obvious where the film is going to take you. The side-story of there being another Earth out there, and the upcoming launch of a group of civilians going to visit it, is important but obvious in the direction of the story. The ending, completely expected and a tad redundant.
As little as the film is impressive for its storyline the only bothersome part is the cinematography, and it does effect the congenial experience of watching Another Earth. The technique, as I have rarely seen it before, can only be termed in my mind as ‘jump focus’. The camera is still, usually at a medium or close-up shot, when the camera literally jumps, while remaining in the same timeline (so not a jump cut) to move in closer to a subject. The focus is lost for a moment, as is the solidity of the frame. It does not happen once in a scene but sometimes many times. It is disorienting, and a tad sloppy on the part of the cinematographer. Clearly being used as an artistic expression, and more avante garde indie approach to filmmaking, it does nothing to excel the scenes in question or compliment the internal, or external, dialogue of the film. Adding to it is some poor framing decisions as well that scream, “look at me, I’m trying to be different“–and failing.
If one is seeking a film about human emotion and entanglements then Another Earth fits nicely (if your eyes can forgive the cinematography gimmicks). For someone who desires a departure from the norm, and an interesting science fiction tale about the possibility of life on another planet just like ours, they will be less than impressed.
On the eve of an epic global discovery—a second Earth glowing in the sky—two strangers, John and Rhoda, collide in a tragedy that forever changes their lives. Four years later the two, both shadows of their former selves, slowly come together as an unlikely couple. But looming almost as largely as the distant new Earth are the harsh realities of truth, guilt, and the complexities of forgiveness.
In this stunning collaboration, director Mike Cahill and mesmerizing actress/co-writer Brit Marling present the rare, successful hybrid of high-concept science fiction film and scrappy independent, fearlessly asking of their audience “What would you do if you met another you?”
(USA, 2011, 92 mins)
Directed By: Mike Cahill
Executive Producers: Tyler Brodie, Paul S. Mezey
Producers: Mike Cahill, Hunter Gray, Brit Marling, Nicholas Shumaker
Screenwriters: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
Cinematographer: Mike Cahill
Editor: Mike Cahill
Cast: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor, Flint Beverage
Music: Fall On Your Sword