ANOTHER EARTH
 

Dir. Mike Cahill. U.S.A. 2011.


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“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” - Robert Burns


Beginning as a blue speck in the far distant horizon, in four years a new planet resembling Earth has moved into our solar system, creating a hovering phantom-like globe in the sky that puzzles scientists and laymen alike, but brings a feeling of wonder to the night sky. Winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film and the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Mike Cahill's low-budget film, Another Earth, is a quietly beautiful meditation on guilt, redemption, and second chances. Though it has some implausible elements, it is so skillfully written and performed that these elements seem irrelevant. Cahill demonstrates that science fiction movies do not have to have blaring music, unending frenzy, CGI effects, or ugly and violent monsters to successfully capture our imagination.


The premise of the film is that the new planet is an exact mirror of the Earth, containing a duplicate version of ourselves who mirror our earthly circumstances. Cahill's main focus, however, is not the new planet but the attachment between two damaged individuals who begin to bring each other back to life after a devastating incident that forever scarred their lives. As the film opens, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a bright 17-year old, unsteady after a night of celebrating her acceptance into MIT, drives her car through a red light, putting composer John Burroughs (William Mapother) in a coma and killing his pregnant wife and their young son. 


The film then jumps ahead four years when the still guilt-ridden and morose Rhoda is released from prison and tries to set her life in order, moving back with her parents Kim (Jordan Baker) and Robert (Flint Beverage), and her brother Jeff (Robin Taylor). Though she had planned on studying Astrophysics, the only job she can now get is working as a high school janitor, a job where she keeps to herself without much interaction with others. When she sees John placing a toy robot at the site of the accident, on a whim she goes to his house pretending to be a maid offering a free trial for a cleaning service oddly called “Maid in Heaven.” 


In the back of her mind, however, is finding a way to release her inner torment. Fascinated with this sullen but obviously highly intelligent woman, John takes her up on her offer and asks her to come back each week to clean his house. At first uncommunicative both verbally and emotionally, the two alienated people slowly begin opening up to each other a little bit more each week. Though Rhoda eventually plans to tell John that she was responsible for the accident that killed his family, their visits seem to bring them to a new awakening of what is possible in their life, and she repeatedly postpones her confession. 


After listening to TV broadcasts talking constantly about the possibility that your identical twin on Earth 2 might be a happier and more satisfied version of you, Rhoda enters a contest to become the first voyager to visit the other Earth. Astonishingly, she wins first prize after a heart rendering essay describing the reasons she wants to go. At first, pleading with her not to go through with it, John's attitude is changed drastically after she reveals her complicity in the fatal accident, a scene that leads to a startling and unpredictable conclusion. 


Supported by the ethereal sounds of the group “Fall on Your Sword,” Another Earth engenders powerful performances that deserve recognition at awards time. Marling, who also co-wrote the film, gives an intense and moving performance that brings her character fully to life. Though the film misses an important teachable moment near the end, it is a quietly powerful work of art that suggests that truth lays more in inner than in outer space, and that the biggest world to conquer is the one that is right before our eyes. As author Marcel Proust put it, “The real voyage of discovery lies in not seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.”


GRADE: A-
 

Howard Schumann


 
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