wed 26/01/2022

Another Earth | reviews, news & interviews

Another Earth

Another Earth

Young actress and director produce an ambitious script which falls between two worlds

The sky's the limit: Brit Marling in 'Another Earth'

Another Earth begins, like many more reliable but less ambitious films, with a life-changing event. A young astrophysicist is involved in a collision. Climbing unharmed from her vehicle, she finds a woman and child dead by her hand. Four years later she emerges from prison and attempts to make contact with her surviving victim, who turns out to be an eminent composer. Her nerve fails, but still she finds herself worming her path into his world.

This would be a promising enough scenario if left to ferment, but scriptwriters Brit Marling and Mike Cahill have altogether higher ambitions. The cause of the accident, the event that distracts Rhoda from the road, is the sudden appearance in the heavens of a huge sky-filling replica Earth, flanked by a golf-ball moon. The media still talks of nothing else when Rhoda leaves the penitentiary and returns to a now hollow family environment. She is soon entering a competition to win a place on a shuttle leaving soon for what is known, like some iffy sequel, as Earth 2. As a felon she is an outcast, she explains in her persuasive entry essay, just like the voyagers who first set off for the New World.

Marling holds the camera's gaze with certainty in a still, quiet performance

While she waits, Rhoda (played by Marling) takes a job as a school janitor to keep herself out of society’s way. “I don’t want to do too much talking,” she says, and she’s as good as her word. The only word she really means to say - sorry - dies in her throat when she knocks on the door of John Burroughs (William Mapother, pictured below with Marling). She finds an eminent composer who has emerged from his post-crash coma to a life deigned by alcohol and silence. Pretending to be a cleaning contractor offering a free trial, Rhoda is soon working as a daily in his tumbledown rural pile. Through the strange alchemical powers of Wii and a musical saw (he ekes out an otherworldly tune on it for her with a cello bow), they both in due course begin to thaw and heal and, eventually, connect. But no amount of scrubbing by Rhoda will wash away her sin until she has confessed her guilt.

Meanwhile, hovering in the sky so close it can almost be plucked is an emissary from another genre altogether. What on earth is this big old metaphor doing up there? When a scientist attempts to communicate live on television with the mirror image in the firmament, the voice that comes back to her is her own. Earth 2 really is a carbon copy down to the last molecule, opening up philosophical possibilities that the film toys with like a cat with a ball of wool. Most of the head-scratching about dual identity is confined to voices overheard on the radio and TV. “If you met yourself, what would you say?” Rhoda wonders. “I’m sure I’d be speechless.” The film doesn’t really have anything to say either, beyond half articulating the idea that the solution to all problems is always somewhere within. This idea is planted in the mouth of Rhoda’s co-worker at school, an old Asian man who, like all such figures, turns out to be a mop-wielding sage: “Keep your mind clear,” he advises, “and you will have peace of mind.”

Another Earth has an identity problem of its own. It doesn’t know what sort of story it’s telling. Asimov may be on Rhoda’s bookshelf, but this is lo-fi sci-fi that doesn’t quite believe in the grandeur of its allegorical vision. On the way, though, there is a lot to admire. Marling holds the camera's gaze with photogenic certainty in a still, quiet performance that evokes Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone. Cahill’s cinematography has a beautiful bleached-out chill to it which warms up along with the two leads. The film is at its surest when it steers clear of ideas and fixes on the reality of emotion. The ending in particular feels perfunctory and, though it sounds odd to say it of a film which defines its own parameters, far-fetched. Somewhere inside there is a more powerful and less overreaching story. But watch out for Marling as an actress and Cahill as a director, and both as writers.

Watch the trailer to Another Earth

If it never quite knows what to say it’s partly because it doesn’t know what sort of story it’s telling

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

Really liked this film - 4/5 - thought it would make a great double-bill with Melancholia.

Crikey - anything in a double-bill with Melancholia would be the straw to break the camel's back. So pleased Lars's latest singularity won at the European Film Awards too - as reported by Nick Hasted here they might have been a mess but the judges showed impeccable taste (which probably only means I agree with them) in also going for Colin Firth and Tilda Swinton.

True. Good calls.

I saw 'Another Earth' in and I recommend it (amazing scene with the guy playing a saw - how many movies have that?! You can listen to the ethereal music from this scene on the composer's website http://www.scottmunsonmusic.com/news/music-in-film-another-earth-soundtrack

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