Retrospective: Another Earth (2011)

This movie was the one which made me most excited last year. It is one of the most interesting and heart rending movies I can remember seeing through how it uses science fiction as a way of exploring ourselves and the meaning of consequences through the idea of duplicate earths.

The movie starts with a 17 year old who has a fantastic future ahead of herself, accepted into MIT but who is at fault for a car collision with a conductor at the height of his musical career, with a pregnant wife and a young daughter. This collision between the two is at the core of the movie. The death and guilt that emerges from the incident is what makes this such a compelling and well acted film. Brit Marling (also the film’s co-writer) plays the brilliant student Rhoda Williams and William Mapother (who some might recognize from Lost), plays the conductor John Burroughs, torn apart by grief both physically and mentally because of his loss.

This is one of the few movies in which I feel compelled to preach for people to see as it is so unusual. The movie makes you think about life and its possibilities and one of the few movies which creates a shiver down my spine, absorbed by its intelligence. One of the best ways I can explain it is to imagine it as a science fiction version of Three Colours: Blue as they are both built around a car crash.

It is an independent movie performed mainly as a simple two-hander with the major interactions between the Marling and Mapother. However, it is filmed in a very interesting style as its colours are very saturated and the characters are not neatly framed in shot. They are always slightly higher than the frame or off centre with the saturated look, which is mixed with a variety of graining. The imagery is like nothing I have ever seen in a movie. It makes for a powerful experience, showing a huge duplicate earth in the sky with a small moon around it above everyday imagery in an austere environment. The fact this is all filmed in New Haven, Connecticut makes this imagery all the more arresting as the place has no real fame. It isn’t like New York, London or a big city – it’s just a small, fairly non descript American town where two very hurt and damaged people attempt to connect.

Rhoda attempts to apologise to John after serving her sentence but she doesn’t quite have the nerve so she lies and pretends to be a cleaner, allowing them to bond and have a relationship built very naturally and slowly. It is beautiful to watch as it has a wonderful naturalistic feel through muted lighting and a terrific soundscape from Fall On Your Sword which is a mix between austere modern classical violin and piano, featuring feedback and distortions; electronica with synth which makes for an eclectic and fantastic accompaniment to the movie. There are lots of nice little touches worth mentioning such as the prominence of various science fiction books including Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series (a particular favourite book of mine and one that got me into science fiction). It reveals the character far more than any lengthy bit of exposition: ‘don’t tell, show’.

When I reviewed Moon, another well acted, low budget science fiction dealing with human elements and a small cast, I mentioned how it was close to the pinnacle of a hard science fiction movie which follows as closely to modern science as possible, while weaving a human story around these things and engaging us in their lives on what is a completely alien way of life. This movie is what I consider one of the best soft science fiction movies, which uses science fiction as way of telling another story which is one of guilt and choices, penance and absolution, freedom and hope without really dealing with scientific implications. It ask the question what would it be like to see myself if I took a different decision? ‘Would me still be me?’. There are a series of voice-over narrations by Rhoda as well as the popular scientist Dr. Richard E. Berendzen who explains many of the wider ideas of the movie through voice-overs. ‘Would I recognize myself if I had made different choices?’. What could happen to make an escape to Earth 2 such a desirable idea and what could you have lost for you to wish that you can see what might have been? T

his is what makes it such an interesting movie as Rhoda is the one who is desperate to leave, ridden by guilt and isolated from her family and wishing to atone for what she has done. John is desperate to keep what he has to hold onto, to look after what he has lost and afraid of the future, torn at the idea of vengeance against the minor responsible for the  death of his family and the loss of having being in a coma of missed time.

One of my favourite scenes in the movie is when Rhoda’s family are watching SETI (the people who talk to aliens) on a live TV show and making first contact. The woman on the TV is speaking to her own exact double and the way it develops is really neatly done with it going from a first contact to a very personal experience in this woman’s life. This little scene encapsulates the movie for me as it is both personal but with huge implications. These sort of scenes are what made the movie, along with the naturalistic formation of a relationship which reminds me of En Coeur en Hiver in its naturalistic mannerisms and the slow burning nature of the story.

Marling (curiously an analyst with Goldman Sachs in a past life) also co-wrote and produced this film which makes it a most unusual movie as this is so rare these days even on small independent productions. Director Mike Cahill’s achievement is all the more remarkable as he’s an interesting figure who was the youngest National Geographic field producer, editor and cinematographer. He makes such an assured film along with Marling who seems to be making so many interesting films so very quickly along with Sound of My Voice and I’ll be fascinated to see what both do next.

Review by Harry Riedl

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