SCIENCE fiction on screen often delves into themes which exist on an allegorical level, examining the many facets of the human condition. These variants can sometimes be political, social or of an existential nature, and the latter is particularly the case with Another Earth, although the genre here is infused with more of a character study/indie sensibility than we’re previously been accustomed to. In fact, it’s a film which could work as a nice companion piece with last year’s Monsters in the way it tells a small, intimate human story which is set against a larger, other-worldly backdrop.
This is truly a star-making turn by the young actress, and she imbues her character with a vulnerability and sorrowfulness which manages to elicit sympathy from the audience, regardless of the lives she’s ruined.
Newcomer Brit Marling (who also co-wrote the script) stars as Rhoda Williams, a bright and promising high school student who, in a moment of lunacy, irrevocably changes her life and that of a man named John Burroughs (William Mapother). The film then shifts forward in future where Rhoda is returning home from six year strength in prison. Her release comes just as excitement begins take hold around the world as an approaching planet that looks identical to earth offers the possibility of existence of another race similar (or possibly mirrored) to our own.
Rhoda attempts to right her wrongs and visits her victim’s house to offer her unreserved apologies. Finding it difficult to reveal who she really is (due to being a minor at the time of her crime, she was granted anonymity during her trail and imprisonment) she instead pretends to be a bespoke cleaning service for the bereaved Burroughs, who is clearly in need of some emotional cleansing as well as basic housekeeping. As feelings between the pair grow, she continues to wrestle with whether to tell him the truth. Situations are further complicated when Rhoda wins a competition for the extremely coveted prize of a ticket to travel up in the stars to the new planet.
Ultimately this mix of real-world drama and fantasy live or dies by the strength of the film’s characters and the actors who inhabit them, and both Mapother and Marling are very strong here. This is truly a star-making turn by the young actress, and she imbues her character with a vulnerability and sorrowfulness which manages to elicit sympathy from the audience, regardless of the lives she’s ruined.
She’s the kind of girl who most men would find it easy to fall in love with. The two leads and their scenes together are often very touching (even if one particular music ‘date’ strays dangerously close to quirk overload) but there’s always a palpable feeling of tension and an air of sadness too, as you realise that the mutual support structure both find themselves in is destined to unravel in a unhappy way.
Debut director Mike Cahill (who is also Marling’s real-life partner) has a real eye for some beautiful-looking compositions (especially those shots framed with the sister earth in the backshot) and it’s a film which manages to transcend its rather meagre $200,000 budget via some nimbly interwoven digital effects and the solid and committed performers. In fact, the sci-fi part often threatens to play second fiddle to the real earth-bound drama, but nevertheless, it manage to enhance the story and helps to mesh the film’s themes together is a satisfying way.
As Hollywood production costs continue to remain substantially high for telling stories within a similar canvas, it’s the skills of directors like Cahill and Monsters’ Gareth Williams who are paving the way by bringing two disparate genres together in intriguing and emotionally enriching ways.
Another Earth opens December 9
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