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ANOTHER EARTH ****
Directed by Mike Cahill. Starring William Mapother, Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Flint Beverage, Robin Taylor. Science Fiction, USA, 92 mins, cert 12A
Released theatrically in the UK by Fox Searchlight on the 9th December
After being accepted by MIT, gifted teenager Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) parties with friends. Driving home after under the influence she is distracted by the appearance of what appears to be a mirror image of the Earth in the sky. She runs a stop light and collides with another car. Although Rhoda survives the driver of the other car John Burroughs (Mapother) is terribly injured and the passengers, his wife and child, killed. Released from prison four years later, Rhoda is unable to pick up her life and takes a menial job as a cleaner. The mirror earth, or Earth Two as it comes to be called, has come closer to our planet during the years of her incarceration, and now looms in the sky.
Guilt ridden, Rhoda revisits the scene of the accident - prompted by a radio announcer discussing where they were when they first saw Earth Two. There she sees Burroughs’ leaving a toy in memorial. After finding his address she tries to visit and apologise, but when confronted cannot go through with it and invents a simple lie that she is offering a trial cleaning service. Burroughs was a music professor, but the accident left him in a coma, and although physically recovered he is mentally scarred, suffering from extreme headaches. His house is a mess, a physical manifestation of his mental disarray. Accepting Rhoda’s offer of a cleaning trial, the two begin a very tentative relationship.
As this fragile, low key story of two damaged people develops, Earth Two looms in the background. SETI scientists trying to contact the world, find themselves quite literally talking to themselves as their own voices answer back. It seems that Earth Two really is an exact copy of our world, right down to its inhabitants.
ANOTHER EARTH is a very low budget, but stylish film. It bears comparison to Gareth Edwards MONSTERS in the use of simple but effective CGI to subtly alter actual footage (in this case by adding the second earth to the sky) and like MONSTERS is a film where the science fiction element of the story is a backdrop to a relationship drama. There is also something of Darren Aronofsky’s early films (in particular PI) in some of the early editing choices, and especially in the use of a rhythmic atonal electronic score by the group Fall On Your Sword. Like these examples the film concentrates on character and keeps the fantastical element of the plot in the background, imaging a world in which day to day life is still continuous. People still get up in the morning, still go to work, still go to school, wheels still turn, taxes are still paid.
Although a microbudget production - Mapother, the most familiar face in the cast, worked on the film for a reported $100 a week fee - ANOTHER EARTH is a striking looking film. The wintery Connecticut locations give a unique look and director Cahill chooses shots with a photographers eye. Lead actress Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cahill, delivers a still and understated performance that works its way under the viewers skin. It could be this year’s breakout indie performance, comparable to Jennifer Lawrence in WINTER’S BONE. Seen at the start of the film as an attractive vivacious teenager, Rhoda is withdrawn and disconnected after being released from prison, disappearing in androgynous hoodies and work-clothes. The obvious depression and hurt being endured by both Rhoda and Burroughs means that scenes of small pleasures make a huge impact. There is a lovely scene where Burroughs persuades Rhoda to play a video game, this is tempered by the sudden realisation that he will once have played this game with his son.
If this all sounds so low-key a drama that you are wondering why there is a Science Fiction element to it at all, then you should know that the theme of mirrored worlds does ultimately come to have a profound effect on the plot and the characters in one of the best final minutes of any film I’ve seen this year. ANOTHER EARTH’s ending will be the subject of many post screening pub conversations, initially it seems obtuse in the manner of INCEPTION but it is in fact quite the opposite.
Perhaps the most interesting comparison to this film is Lars Von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA. While lauded by many, I found Von Trier’s film to be beautiful but shallow, and preposterous as Science Fiction. Ultimately what did it have to say beyond Lars is depressed and thinks life sucks? ANOTHER EARTH is also a film that deals with the appearance of a mysterious planet, and with damaged characters struggling with depression and hurt. Unlike MELANCHOLIA however ANOTHER EARTH has something more constrictive to say than people = shit.
Stuart Barr. Review first published by Screenjabber.com
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