Brit Marling, William Mapother
Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
The opening night film of the 2011 Indy Film Fest and winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival's Alfred P. Sloan Prize that recognizes a feature film with a central theme of science and/or technology, Another Earth came out of nowhere at Sundance to catch big time attention from studios with its excellent weaving together of both human and scientific elements.
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a promising young woman recently accepted into MIT's astrophysics program. She's driving home one night some partying when she becomes distracted by a big blue object in the skies. Her momentary distraction leads to a tragic accident where a young child is killed along with his pregnant mother while his father, famous composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), is left in a coma.
This big blue light is, of course, central to our story as it turns out to be "another Earth," a planet that has until now been hidden behind the sun but that closely resembles our own. During the four years that Rhoda is incarcerated, a tremendous amount of research occurs that concludes that this planet is, in fact, a parallel reality. After her release from prison, Rhoda is swallowed up by guilt and suicidal feelings. When she learns that John has returned from his coma, Rhoda decides to visit him to seek forgiveness or, at least, apologize. Instead, she seems to discover an equally, you might even say parallel, soul whose entire world has been equally as shattered. Without acknowledging her true identity, she offers her home cleaning services and this begins a slowly building journey of returning to humanity and being connected.
Earth 2 becomes ever more prominent in the sky, leading to a myriad of scientific and philosophical questions about all that can or cannot be resolved in a parallel universe and, ultimately, if lives and fate itself can be altered.
Director Mike Cahill largely has a background in documentaries, but he clearly here has a knack for honoring both the intellectual aspects of the story with its more human elements. The science here is compelling because of the human lives it impacts, while the rather fundamental relationship drama that is unfolding here is significantly enhanced by the larger than life science elements that are woven through it. Indeed, much of the time Another Earth looks and feels and sounds like universal poetry and dance. While the science, even for this decidedly non-scientific mind, seems implausible at best, it intrigues because it matters so greatly within the lives of Rhoda and John.
Another Earth is not a film about science, but Cahill makes the larger than life issues of grief and reconciliation feel accessible because he places them as tangibles within a universe that cannot possibly be understood with any certainty. There is a palpable intimacy between Rhoda and John that feels downright haunting within the framework of the film's universal themes. Brit Marling, a relative newcomer, gives a quiet and deeply inward performance as the grief and guilt-stricken Rhoda, who manages to connect with John while still longing for the possibility of escaping to the unknown world of Earth 2. As John, William Mapother (Lost) more gruff and asocial yet equally as captivating.
Another Earth is likely to bring to mind the marvelous indie film of Duncan Jones's, Moon, another low-budget indie that significantly transcended its limitations while creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable story. While not as technologically successful as Moon, Another Earth is a magnificently visionary film that succeeds despite Cahill's clearly aiming far beyond what his production budget would allow.
The original music by Fall On Your Sword complements the film to perfection, while Cahill himself shoots the film in beautiful shades that give the film a sort of dusky feeling that is simply hypnotic and works nicely with Darci Monaco's beautifully blended production design combining both natural and universal elements.
Mesmerizing for how it begins and ends, Another Earth is a wonderful kick-off for the 2011 Indy Film Fest and will begin its limited nationwide run on July 22, 2011.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic