Movie Review – Another Earth
September 7, 2011 5 Comments
If you have been following along with this blog since the beginning, or maybe part way through my 50th post, you will have read about me talking about this movie. I am a lover of science fiction films, but not only that, I am a lover of the unexplainable. Life is about the uncertainty that we all go through everyday. Science fiction writing and film is about capturing that essence and either explaining it or give us more to think about. Another Earth had me hooked from the start of the trailer. I have honestly never felt so enraptured by a trailer and leaving me with this void that I couldn’t explain. Was it the quizzical nature of science fiction trying to explain why there is the existence of another planet Earth? Was is the deeper, moral reflection on our existence and what it means to internalize our decisions in life? Maybe it was the fact that the most chilling aspect of the trailer was that it presented you with the idea that there is another you, living on the second Earth. It could be that the trailer song done by Patrick Watson and The Cinematic Orchestra that evoked such a calm and tranquil feeling that you should close your eyes and just go with what happens in the movie and life. If you felt moved by the trailer, perhaps you are a lover of the science fiction genre and need an answer.
So while I was fully in love with the trailer and concept of the movie, I was able to finally see this movie with two friends in tow and a belly full of Indian food. I think in some aspect, I was prepared for what I was going to see. My excitement was at a fever pitch and I wanted all these questions I had answered. When the lights went down and screen illuminated by the glow of the bulb, I just let myself be immersed in a science fiction realm where the impossible seemed possible. I was ready to view Another Earth.
Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a bright young woman accepted into MIT’s astrophysics program, aspires to explore the cosmos. A brilliant composer, John Burroughs (William Mapother), has just reached the pinnacle of his profession and is about to have a second child. On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, tragedy strikes and the lives of these strangers become irrevocably intertwined.
Another planet Earth has somehow come into our celestial plane and becomes this distant sister planet. We don’t know how it appeared, why it is there, or why there are no planetary consequences of a catastrophic nature happening to our planet, but an exact copy of our Earth is sitting out in orbit. A seemingly curious nature where Earth 1 contacts Earth 2 produces a startling result, in that there is another one of us on the other Earth. In the opening trailer it is a chilling revelation, one that might seem like spoiler, but this is the basis of the movies central plot. The aim of this reveal that there is another one of us brings into the philosophical question of our existence and what it means to us. The appearance of this new Earth changed the course of our two main characters, Rhoda Williams who just got accepted to MIT for astrophysics. Her future was a limitless as the galaxy she studies, but the while looking up to the night sky, she looses sight of her current realm and crashes her car into that of John Burroughs. Burroughs is a composer for Yale who is on his way home with his family, a son and a wife with another child on the way. Sharing a moment at a stop light, being complacent in life yields a tragic turn of events. Rhoda and John’s lives are intertwined as the crash takes away John’s family and Rhoda’s future at MIT is gone in an instant.
The story isn’t so much the focus of the other planet Earth, but more of the study on the deeper connection that two characters have with one another. They are bound by a tragic accident that leaves both without a future, but while Rhoda tries to make up for crimes by confessing to John one day, she instead retreats and lies about what she was there at his house to do. So now Rhoda acts as a cleaning lady to John’s depressing lifestyle and Rhoda starts to piece together her life and the life of John through small interactions. As a familiar scene unfolds in front of our eyes, the two grow closer, but Rhoda knows why they are connected as John was in a coma during the trial. The two begin to dive into the basic theme of the movie, the what if statements. This is the epitome of the story and film, this other Earth being in existence and the knowledge that there is another you on that planet. What would you do or say to this person? What do you want to know? Did that person make the right decision in life? Did that other you turn out the same? This is not only applied to the external factor of the other planet Earth, but to the internal struggles that each character faces. Rhoda questions her own life choices in that maybe if she didn’t drink that night, if she didn’t listen to the radio, if she didn’t go to the party, if and if and if. It’s the never-ending series of questions that lead you to an infinite possibility of answers. The uncertainty of it all becomes too much to handle both for Rhoda and John. Rhoda questions and wonders about her choices and living with uncertainty. John resides in the fact that he was content in life before the accident and fears the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead. Both characters need one another to balance out their lives as the crash created the imbalance.
A gorgeous story develops throughout the film with both having to embrace their circumstances. It isn’t until Rhoda tells the story of the Russian Cosmonaut who was orbiting Earth and started hearing a tapping sound in the console. The sound became so great that the Russian took apart the console and tried to find the source of the sound. Not finding what he was looking for, the Russian closed his eyes and embraced the sound. It became apart of his life and his surrounding, embracing the unknown. In all the unexplainable things in the universe, it becomes useless to try to understand the why, instead Rhoda embraces the feelings and circumstances she is in and John becomes the sound she comes to understand.
Brit Marling gives an amazing performance as the MIT bound tragedy known as Rhoda Williams. She was at the height of her young life with unlimited potential. A careless night out destroys not only her life, but the life of John Burroughs. Rhoda is a character that is stunted in her short life. Coming out of her four-year stint in prison, she is reserved, quiet and distant from her family. She chooses to work as a janitor, keeping her distance from people and wanting to just move on with her life. Brit Marling has this genuine screen presence that shows the vulnerability of her character and her expressive eyes show a deep sadness to a life that once burned brightly as the stars she looked up to. You feel both sad and complacent with her predicament. People make mistakes and we sometimes question what happened that led us to our current predicament. Rhoda begins to show signs of maturity and acceptance as her relationship and uncertainty of life comes together towards the climax of the film. Her character is genuine and sympathetic, while maintaining that quizzical nature that led her into the field of astrophysics. There are little bits of her former passions strewn about her parents house and room. You see her at ease when she puts together John’s telescope, almost as if she has done that a million times before. It’s this casual familiarity that makes us connect with her character and embrace her decisions to fall in love with John and to the final resolution she takes near the end.
WIlliam Mapother is a welcome face to a cinephile like myself. A character actor through and through, it was refreshing to see him in a role that doesn’t make him out to be a creep or bad guy. William plays John Burroughs, a man who had everything in life, a wife, a child and a baby on the way. In an instant his world is taken away from him, wife and child dead, left in a coma, and a broken man. William plays the character is a timid traveler of the sorts, he was comfortable with how his life was before the accident and is frightened about how it has turned after the accident. John doesn’t dive into the unknown, as a conversation with Rhoda about traveling to Earth 2 leaves him angry and scared. He doesn’t want to think about the “if’s” in life, as he would begin to question too much about what happened that night. I enjoyed watching William be this distant and dismissive character until he knows that he has a good thing right in front of him. He takes a liking to Rhoda as she brings life into his outlook. The stories and wonderment that Rhoda has about the universe, kind of puts a glint into his eyes. I enjoyed watching William learn to grow along with Rhoda. Both were broken people in need of one another, even if he didn’t believe that the uncertainty of the universe brought them together.
One image that sticks out the most in the movie is the above clip. The other Earth just sits out in the celestial horizon, not too far out of mans reach, but far enough to be looming over us as a reminder that we aren’t alone. It’s this visual that captured my imagination and encapsulated the closing of the trailer. Another Earth, just there out in the distance, almost as if it is another moon that sits in our orbit. While a low-budget film, the director utilized the effect of this other Earth sitting out in space to the fullest effect. Every scene of the movie has Earth 2 in the background, framing the film in this aura of unknown science fiction. But the effect is just that, a background piece. We never see the surface the second Earth and know anything else about it. It’s a mystery that is within our grasp but we never know more about it. That is the way it should be. Leaving the science fiction lover in me with uncertainty and questions.
While there are little to no effects in the movie, other than the second Earth, the film has a very jarring and ethereal feel to it. What I mean is that the movie is shot more from the handheld perspective, which allows for some grainy, home movie feel to the film. It’s nice from time to time to have that effect, but it kind of detracts from the framing of Rhoda in the movie. Rhoda, when released from prison, is distant to everyone around her. She is usually not in frame with the camera, either just below the middle of the frame or off to the side. I would have liked to have more static or tripod shots which would have enhanced the visual aspect of her personality through her position on the screen.
Otherwise this is beautiful looking movie, even with the minimal budget they had to work with. Scenes are tinted with this grainy texture that gives off this warm feeling and home video quality. The best aspect of the film is the looming second Earth in the night sky, illuminating the Earth 1.
Brit Marling and Mike Cahill have created one of the most thought-provoking and gorgeous science fiction films this year. From my first viewing of the trailer, I knew that this was going to be special and amazing. I was hooked with the prospect of another Earth and another “you” in existence. It opened up so many questions and doors that we would never stop to think about in a movie. It is more meditation than entertainment, not to say I wasn’t entertained, but that I was thinking more and more about the uncertainty of my own life and decisions. I reflected back on loves that were lost, decisions that could alter my standing in life, choices that I might regret now and a myriad of other introspective items. There are few movies out there tackle a deep subject like the unknown and posing this theme with the frame of the existence of another Earth is a unique prospect. It certainly worked on me and truly this went for the heart of science fiction.
Too many times the word “science fiction” is used to sell a movie. We often think of other worlds in the galaxy, space battles, lasers and hot alien chicks. We lose ourselves in the spectacle rather than the substance of what is presented to us. Another Earth smartly used the unexplainable event of a second Earth existing in our celestial plane and the fact that we know there is another one of us existing on that Earth. What would we say to that person? How would we react to seeing and meeting that other you? I am glad the movie left those questions unanswered. Even with the final ending of the movie, you don’t know the motives that Rhoda had when coming to her final decision. You don’t know what awaits her and in the end, that is what she wanted. Rhoda has embraced the uncertainty of her circumstances and realized that what happens to her, happens for the reasons they are supposed to.
I embraced this movie with open arms. Much like the characters in the movie, I was enthralled with the prospect of figuring it all out, but alas I am left with more questions than answers and I am comfortable with this. This is the heart of science fiction. We are left with questions to the unexplainable and need to come to our own conclusions. We are presented with an incredible discovery and event in our cosmos, so why should we have an answer to it all.
I would recommend this to any and everyone I meet. It has enough appeal that non-science fiction fans can enjoy the movie and it’s themes. The science fiction lovers will be treated to a movie that is pure sci-fi. No whiz-bang effects or elaborate settings, just a deep story and engaging characters. It’s sad this movie will won’t be seen widely by the public, but again maybe something like this should be cherished by those who want to be challenged by the themes and questions it presents. It is something to meditate and reflect on. I know for me this is one of the most touching films to have come out this year and one that makes me appreciate storytelling and film all the more.