Poignant and honest Another Earth is what great science fiction should be; thought provoking and intelligent.
Science Fiction can be a tough nut to crack. For every Star Wars (1977) there’s a Space Truckers (1996), for every 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) you’ll find a Knowing (2009) and where there’s a Blade Runner (1982) or Alien(1979) there’s almost always a Battlefield Earth (2000). The key is taking an idea and placing a question firmly in the audiences mind; what if you found out you were a clone, Never Let Me Go (2010), how does one overcome prejudices, District 9 (2009) or what if you could alter time, Back To The Future (1985), Time Crimes (2007) and Donnie Darko (2001). Another Earth, as with all good Sci-fi, asks questions of its audience and its protagonist in such a way as to make you forget about the science and fiction of it all and focus on the morality of life.
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a bright young student who has just graduated high school. On the eve of her graduation a new planet enters our solar system. As she drives home from a party, slightly drunk, she looks up into the night sky gazing at the new planet. It’s a fleeting moment but it changes her life forever as she smashes into the car of John (William Mapother) killing his wife and young child in the process. Released from prison Rhoda tries to express her sorrow to John but seeing how his life has fallen apart lies to him and says she is there to clean his house. As the two lonely people find comfort in each other the world realises the planet is an exact replica of Earth, inhabitants and all, and a lucky few will be given the chance to visit the alternate world.
Last year we saw the concept of another planet entering our solar system in the shape of retina scarring Melancholia from master of the miserable Lars Von Trier. Another Earth has its depressing moments but it is subtler, more existential and endlessly more philosophical than Von Trier’s operatics. Indeed what makes the film so intimate and absorbing is that it keeps the sci-fi aspect on the peripheries. The other Earth looms large in the sky, a promise or a threat for all to see, but for Rhoda it offers something else. A chance at redemption, a world in which she didn’t make that most horrible of mistakes and a chance that maybe, just maybe, there is a semblance of hope left in hers and John’s lives.
What drives the story is Rhoda and John’s relationship. While he may not know who she is, and as such finds himself confiding and healing through her, his presence in her life is a constant reminder, a black cloud fogging the now stunning view of Earth, of everything that has gone wrong in her life. It’s intimate and delicate, executed with indie pathos and precision by director and co-writer Mike Cahill. Where Von Trier found fancy ways of making his point, through admittedly stunning visuals, Cahill allows his characters to emote and evoke a plethora of emotional beats.
Mopather, best known as a less than convincing villain in TV’s Lost, gives a wonderfully understated performance of depression. He’s not kicking things around of crying in the corner, he’s walking around his messy house slouched shoulders and hang-dog expression. Never over-selling his grief, he instead allows the quiet reclusive nature of the character come to life in moments of heartbreaking honesty. Marling meanwhile, acting as co-writer as well, is a revelation. There will come a time in the years ahead where we look back at Another Earth as the birth of a star. With her ethereal screen presence she speaks in hushed tones, a delicate flower damaged by her own inner turmoil. At no point do you blame her for the accident, but rather pity her. It could happen to any one of us and in Marling’s hands you honestly believe she is someone you know and care for. Suffice to say if we are not talking about this young actress for many years to come something has gone horribly wrong with the film industry.
Another Earth is a rare treat, a deeply affecting and personal drama wrapped in the cunning disguise of a science fiction film. Make no mistake if you want to be moved and provoked Another Earth will captivate. If you want to be whisked away with space-ships and laser guns you’d best look elsewhere. Riveting in all the most profound ways.