Review: Another Earth

Another Earth

 
Director: Mike Cahill
Writer: Brit Marling, Mike Cahill
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother
Country: USA
Release Date: 20 July 2011 (US), 29 July 2011 (Canada)

 


2011 is quickly turning into the year where micro and macro anxieties converge in this curious little sub-genre: the cosmos drama. Tree of Life kicked it off with its creation-as-prayer musing, Melancholia situates the impending annihilation of our planet on the night of one couple’s nuptials, and now the Sundance version of this trend comes in the form of Mike Cahill’s Another Earth. The sci-fi premise of Another Earth sounds like something that must have been explored long before now: without explanation, a second planet appears in the sky that resembles our Earth in every way, as SETI tries to make contact with this anomaly, a far more terrestrial drama unfolds in the forefront between a MIT student and Harvard professor. A pretty sweet hook, particularly with the striking visual image of the Earth dotting the atmospheric sky; the question is does it payoff?

If expecting sci-fi steeped in set-pieces of galactic discovery, one will leave Another Earth gravely disappointed – it is far more about ideas than storyboards. Though the film flirts with philosophical and allegorical concepts of the genre, its feet are set firmly on the ground. The sci-fi conceit plays out mostly in the background of the story of Rhoda Williams, a woman at a crossroads in her life trying desperately to make amends for a horrible accident she caused on the eve of the planet’s discovery. As the world grapples with the implications of a second Earth, Rhoda sleepwalks through it consumed by her own personal hell. By the end, the planetary conceit is justified within the narrative, the two story-lines building to an evocative final shot. Whether or not it lives up to the headier or more visually striking entries in the genre, feels beside the point: Another Earth is a damn fine character drama in its own right, which ultimately becomes the real hook.

Overusing the quick-zoom as indie films today tend to do, and being a little too precious with how it goes about telling its story, Another Earth is not without its flaws. There is a nagging lack of subtlety in the seams of the story, from bits of commentary to coincidental encounters and situations; the lazy short-form that has made the Sundance label feel at times like a derogatory genre unto itself. To some, this quaint storytelling may be a deal-breaker, and in the showing I was at, there were walk-outs. Fortunately, the story of Rhoda and her unorthodox relationship with the bereaved, John Burroughs, finds a momentum and intensity that more than makes up for these minor infractions.

Chief among its strengths is the central lead played by Brit Marling, a relative unknown that inhabits the character of Rhoda from the inside out. The first half of the film plays mostly silent as Rhoda crawls into her shell overcome by the guilt of what she has done. The film works best when it is allows Marling to play out this pantomimed sadness as Rhoda bumps up against the largely indifferent world around her. There is a Wendy and Lucy quality to this careful observation, and as Rhoda’s relationship with John develops, the transformation is a wonder to watch. John is played by William Mapother, best known perhaps for his creepy stint as Ethan in the television series Lost. Here he plays against that type, and does an admirable job conveying a delicate balance of grief with a yearning to be saved. When the drama comes to a head, the experience is visceral.

In the end, Another Earth won me over with its dramatic performances and how it played out the conflict, the science fiction element was just icing on the cake. I cared more about Rhoda’s plight than that of the Earth, which, in this film, is kind of the point. No twist, no MacGuffin, just an old-fashion human tragedy told with a maturity that elevates the science fiction genre beyond its gimmicks.

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Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Very excited to see this. Was there a screening in Toronto that I missed?

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I saw this at the LA Film Fest and have been grappling with whether or how to review it ever since – I felt a lot of the positives you did, Mike, especially in Marling’s performance. I think you’re right, she’s got a bright future (she also cowrote this film). Ultimately, the Sundancey elements didn’t totally work for me, though, and the tone didn’t sit right with me. Nothing I can specifically put my finger on there, except it didn’t ring as true for me as it did for you on an emotional level.

On the sci-fi level, I liked the idea that it was in the background, kind of subdued compared with Rhoda’s human drama, but there were enough inconsistencies in the way the sci-fi elements played out (specifically the way it treated the element of choice in a parallel world situation) to distract me and put me off. I’m glad this sort of heady, thoughtful sci-fi drama is getting made, but I was a little disappointed in this one, which kills me, because I really wanted to love it.

Amani
Guest

I enjoyed the movie as well. I was just left wanting one final conversation at the very end (no spoilers) … And I agree she will be big. She was in another movie at Sundance as well I heard.

Rodney
Guest

This sounds like a fascinating film to watch. Consider my interest piqued.

Gary
Guest

Hi Mike:

I’m a first time poster from NY. I have seen “Another Earth” twice in special screenings here, both times with Mike Cahill present, and once with Brit Marling. With regard to all, including William Mapother, who was at one screening, they are gracious, humble, incredibly talented people, and I had the pleasure of speaking to all of them after the screening personally. They al signed my poster.

Brit Marling is, indeed, a knock out, but I don’t want to be sexist at all. She is bright, articulate, gracious and will not be a “star” in any negative sense–she just wants to write, produce and act in good films. I liken her to Meryl Streep;she’s that good. I told her that she will be nominated for an Oscar for this film- and to remember my words about that. She very, very humbly thanked me for that. And I meant it.

I have been so taken with this film that I will see it again when it opens here this coming Friday. Why am I such a cheerleader? To me this is a “Marty” for the 21st Century-a simple, low-budget, well written and acted movie about real people with real emotions who speak real dialogue. It defines the word “sleeper.” The whole movie is about forgiveness or the possibility of it. It is sheer elegant story-telling. The Sci-Fi concept framing the story is interesting, but only as it moves the narrative along-and the narrative is Rhoda’s story. Yes, the ending is perfect because it represents, at least to me, an ultimate self-inquiry, and I wonder, will there ever be closure, if there is such a thing.

Quite an achievement, and I can’t wait for Brit’s “Sound of My Voice.”

rot
Guest

I wouldn’t call the film perfect, there are a lot of short-cut storytelling in the film I wish it would have had the restraint to avoid, but Rhoda’s story is fascinating enough that I can overlook how it is being told. If oscar nominations were not so damn competitive lately, particularly in a very strong year for female performances, I would say she has a shot, but I don’t think it will happen. Not only is it a small picture but it has the stigma of being sci-fi, however slight, which also diminishes her chances. Award or no award, it is still a pleasure to watch.

Piotr
Guest

The acting was a bit stiff throughout, but it wasn’t terrible. Brit Marling as “Rhoda Williams” was perfect as a sort of gawky “Olive Oil” with a pretty face; she played an “outsider” really well. I never felt bad for the “Rhoda Williams” character, but I could not take my eyes off of her either. It’s a very moody, atmospheric film of little consequence.

Goon
Guest

William Mapother is related to Tom Cruise, right? like a stepbrother, or cousin, or nephew or something?

rot
Guest

Not sure how you could not feel bad for Rhoda as a character… that to me is like 80% of the film.

Goon, no idea. He will always be Ethan to me.

Andrew James
Admin

Attach another film to my top ten potentials list. This is the film Monsters could have and should have been. Great characters, believable story and the sci-fi elements inject themselves when they need to – not because the audience want them to. It gives the viewer plenty to ponder about their own existence and the sort of “what-if” phenomena.

***SPOILER***

The one thing I didn’t like was the completely unnecessary sex scene between the two. Their bond was strong enough and the story would’ve worked without it. Not only was it forced and obvious (lazy) but it also was followed by a moment of needed, but clunky exposition. It could’ve been handled differently.

I also am not a fan of “Ethan”.

Otherwise, fucking great!

Rot
Guest

Oh I liked Another Earth WAY more than Monsters but that is a good comparison, there is the same Sundancey lack of polish to the storytelling. I will say this for those who have not seen it but want to Do Not watch the trailer… It just goes beat by beat of the entire film.

Tom Clift
Guest

Caught this recently and really liked it. Blended the drama and the sci-fi perfectly.

****spoiler****

@Andrew – I think the sex scene is necessary because it makes the reveal of who she is that much more horrifying from John’s perspective.

Kurt
Guest

To me, ANOTHER EARTH is a right-brain sort of sci-fi, an emotional focus. If you apply any sort of logic to what is happening the film is completely ludicrous, but if you treat it as more of a metaphor for the main characters hopes and dreams and desires (considering her circumstances) it works like gang busters.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

So I’m alone in my apathy for Another Earth, huh? Okay. I liked Monsters a lot more, though I can see why people wouldn’t. Something about the tone just rubbed me all the wrong way in Another Earth.

rot
Guest

I was expecting a lot more hate for this film… I suppose if it gains more attention the haters will be by shortly.

rot
Guest

the tone is pretty blunt. and stuff like the inclusion of Kumar DID rub me the wrong way… but, but, but… I really did enjoy it, and I can see myself buying it even.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

I really like KUMAR, but his side-plot in the film was both a) Unnecessary and b) kind of over baked.

Andrew James
Admin

@Jandy. You’re not alone. I was reading the Minneapolis local free entertainment paper and hey ripped it to shreds (I don’t think the reviewer grasped what was going on exactly). One star out of five. I can totally see someone not liking this film. It’s definitely a certain taste.

I didn’t mind the Kumar side plot, but the story/movie definitely slowed down whenever it went in that direction. It might’ve been better but they didn’t really flesh out his character very well and it didn’t tie in with anything. It was just something for Rhoda to cling to. Whatever.

and once again, PERFECT ending!

4 1/2 out of 5

**** SPOILER *****

****

@Tom – I get it. It made their relationship seem all that more “disgusting” but I thought it didn’t need this. It felt a little too over the top or just the most obvious thing to have happen. I think just the fact that they’ve been hanging out and he’s shared his life/music with her and all that is “disturbing” enough. Adding sex into the mix just felt like too much. Not only that, but after they do it, Ethan just explains everything to her (and the audience) in a few sentences. Kind of clunky I thought.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Oh, I’m more than 1/5 stars for sure. Probably 3/5 or even 3.5/5. I liked a lot of parts of it, it just didn’t sit well with me as a whole. I guess I’d say I liked it with reservations, a lot more reservations than the rest of you, but by no means did I hate it.

Marina
Guest

Have to agree that the ending is perfect.

Didn’t really care for the Kumar plotline either. Felt really unnecessary. That said, does anyone know what she wrote in his hand? By the time I figured out what she was doing, he was a number of letters in. Wonder if that message has any added impact to the story?

The Monsters comparison is apt but I really disliked that film – no part of it worked for me where as this had me from the dreamlike opening credits.

Marina
Guest

And Mike – great of you to mention TREE OF LIFE. That was The first thing I thought of when the lights came up.

rot
Guest

wow nearly unanimous Row Three endorsement so far. If I remember right FORGIVE is written on Kumar’s hand but I could be wrong.

Marina
Guest

That makes sense and fits nicely into her story as well. Thanks Mike.

Nova
Guest

I loved this movie!

Nova

Nova
Guest

The moments we all have in our life that we wonder about…what if we did differently or what if we hadn’t did that one thing at all….was clear throughout the movie.

The other earth within the backdrop was handled perfectly.
The movie was about the human journey and coming to terms with who you are as a person and not letting others shape your destiny. In life many will try and define you based on your past. But you never need to run away or hide. All that is need is to live in the future and not the past. I think and feel strongly the ending was perfect. Thumbs up!!!

Nova

Heyone
Guest

***spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler****

Hello.
I just loved this movie.
But the ending lead me to here.
Another Rhoda from Earth 2 (say Rhoda 2 :P)came to visit Rhoda at the very end.
What do you think it means?
Rhoda gave the ticket to John so he might have chance to see his family. Does it mean that John’s family died anyways in Earth 2?
Rhoda wrote the essay saying she’s convict and thats why she should go and I guess that accident must’ve been happened to Rhoda 2 to be able to travel to the Earth…? or not?

Audrey
Guest

***spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler****
I also came to see discussion on the ending. My first thought when she found out that their might be variation was what if John from Earth 2 had been the one killed but his family was still alive. Then Rhoda 2 wouldn’t have given her ticket. But lots of people have commented on her nice clothes and suggested the accident was avoided and she’d gone to MIT and was there on merit instead of the essay. But that means that there are 2 Johns, which sucks for him.

Robert Reineke
Guest

***spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler*******spoiler****
I think the ending basically confirms Rhoda’s hypothesis that the two worlds aren’t perfectly in synch any more. Presumably, the two Earths are turning in perfect harmony so that if it’s 2 pm on one Earth, it’s 2 pm on another. If that’s the case, then Earth 2 Rhoda couldn’t see Earth 1 as it’s on the other side of her world, towards the sun. An Earth 2 Rhoda who wasn’t distracted probably didn’t crash.

That’s the literal meaning that I take anyways.

John
Guest

Sorry but I don’t like films that only the writer knows the real ending. I hate to be left hanging with several ideas of what “could” have happened. I did like the story without the science fiction but felt so unsatisfied with the ending. A few more scenes could have cleared it all up.

David M
Guest

The thematic content revolves around the Jungian concept of the mirror. Without going into morbid detail, there is a taboo, or deep-seated fear of regarding the self. It’s related in some respects with what scares and disgusts us about our subconscious selves. The reality however is that in addition to the violence, lust, and capacity for betrayal there is something precious and magnificent in there. Although this is the saddest movie I think I’ve ever seen (maybe because Rhoda reminds me of my daughter a little) it does have a happy ending.

The relationship with Purdeep is very subtle. I had to watch it three times before I really got it. It’s easy to assume he is playing the wise old man. But he isn’t. They are kindred spirits. Their relationship serves to show how strong Rhoda is. The point of the film is not that Rhoda is keening around feeling sorry for herself. It’s the opposite.