Director: Mike Cahill
Stars: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Plot: On the same night that a duplicate Earth is discovered in the sky, the paths of a student and a composer become inextricably linked by a tragic accident.
When the end of the world (or at least as we know it) is nigh, Hollywood makes sure we get the message. In 1998, Paramount and Dreamworks’ Deep Impact put Morgan Freeman in charge when an asteroid was heading on a collision course for Earth. The same year heralded the release of Touchstone’s Armageddon and it was down to Bruce Willis and Aerosmith to combine in deflecting another rogue piece of space rock away from our planet. Fast-forward to 2011 and the flavour of the year was a planet moving within poking distance or worse with both Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Mike Cahill’s Another Earth. The latter of these films takes a much more subtle approach – suggesting that we are in fact not just alone in the universe, but we have doppelgängers living the same lives on a carbon copy of our Earth.
Rhoda Williams (Marling) is a hard-working, successful star-gazing student living in New Haven, Connecticut, who has learnt that she has been accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To celebrate, she gets drunk with her friends but then drives herself home. While listening to the radio, Rhoda learns about a blue star that has suddenly appeared in the sky and she gazes up, only to lose control and crash into the car of a family, killing the wife and son of celebrated composer John Burroughs (Mapother), who is left in a coma. Rhoda serves a four-year prison sentence for manslaughter and, on her release, reluctantly integrates herself into the outside world, becoming a janitor at the local school. Having continued her job and heard more about the approaching planet, she decides to go and apologise to John, who has now recovered and is living as a recluse.
As John never learnt of Rhoda’s identity due to the fact that she was a minor at the time of the accident, he doesn’t realise who she is and when Rhoda hesitates in revealing herself, she pretends to be touting for cleaning business Maid in Haven and offers to clean John’s house as part of a free trial. Rhoda returns to John’s house and they develop a friendship, despite John not knowing her secret. As the planet gets nearer, it becomes apparent that it is in fact very similar to Earth – contact is made by a radio host on live television with truly astonishing results. Rhoda enters a writing competition sponsored by a millionaire, to send a member of the public to the mirror earth. As events in the sky and closer to home reach a profound crescendo, Rhoda decides that she must tell John the truth about who she is, so that her conscience is clear should she be selected to meet her ‘other self’.
Another Earth is undeniably thought-provoking, although doesn’t reach the heady heights of Melancholia. The decidedly lo-fi effects – there are no whizzing spaceships or fantastical alien lands to explore – create a very decidedly indie feel which at times is frustrating but touching in equal measure. The relationship between Rhoda and John is rather contrived as are the multiple plot strands which litter the screenplay, especially the Signs-style money shot at the end of the scene where contact is made with the ‘aliens’. Although it appears that the idea that we have doubles living on an identical planet to our own has been fleshed out into a deliberately low-key affair, there is something very appealing to the whole set up. The most striking thing about the film is the cinematography, which is simple but very effective – director/writer Mike Cahill who has taken on this role too, puts together some intriguing shots of our ‘sister’ planet, but this just leaves us wanting to know more about it.
Virtual newcomer Brit Marling, who takes a writing credit as well as the lead, doesn’t set the world (or the other one for that matter) alight, but she has potential, given the right role. Marling portrays Rhoda’s guilt superbly early on, even though when she beings to thaw and develop a relationship with John there is little to suggest that Marling has a great career as a character actress, just yet. William Mapother, cruelly pigeon-holed as ‘Tom Cruise’s cousin’ (there is an odd resemblance if you squint your eyes at his profile) plays John Burroughs with the guy-through-the-wringer style which is required. Even fans of Lost will find the particularly dubious character of Ethan well and truly buried. The main problem here is that the two leads don’t really display enough chemistry to convince us that they could actually become friends, let alone lovers. Perhaps with a little tweaking of the screenplay and a touch lengthening of the running time, this could have been given room to develop more.
Another Earth has a wonderful premise, but it sadly keeps its feet firmly on the ground of ‘Earth 1′. Cahill’s purposeful style in keeping the action in an almost Winter’s Bone dreariness is a little too much to take. However, in terms of originality, this one certainly stands out from the crowd.