A lucid sci-fi about loss and redemption that respects its audience
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for MovieWeb by Harvey Karten
Directed By: Mike Cahill
Written By: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
Cast: William Mapother, Brit Marling
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 7/18/11
Opens: July 22, 2011
Robert Burns said in his "On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church," "O wad some Power the giftie gie us/ To see oursels as ithers see us!" Translated from the Scottish, it would be a fine thing if we could step outside ourselves and watch as we make our way through life. We probably would not believe that these "strangers" are really ourselves. We would find faults that we never knew were there and might even refuse the gracious invitation to hang around and keep observing.
But if you ever get the "giftie" to look at yourself in a deep way rather than just in a mirror, you might allow your mistakes to be solid stepping-stones to change. This is the concept brought lucidly to the forefront in Mike Cahill's freshman sci-fi movie, "Another Earth," co-written by its beautiful star, Brit Marling. Essentially a two-hander that might even be performed on an off-Broadway stage, a minimalist film with a terrific score by the Brooklyn-based group Fall On Your Sword," "Another Earth" is a slow-moving story without the F/X and other accouterments that a big-budget film would find necessary. The Sundance-introduced tale is moving, really, because of its less-than-generous budget as Cahill, who co-wrote, directed, produced, filmed and edited it, allows the two stars to unfold gradually, thereby assuring credibility. They have to be hesitant at first as they begin their relationship, they have to grow on each other week after week until love walks in, they must face a break-up as one of the two explodes in anger when receiving news he hated to hear. Kirk Honeycutt of Hollywood Reporter writes that the best science fiction is "about people in...situations that...open up the vast, still largely unexplored terrain of the human heart." I would add that the best sci-fi uses the fantasies to make particular points, whether satirical, comical, serious, political, or what-have-you-for example as one of my favorite movies, "Logan's Run," shows us an American youth-obsessed society that forces people to evaporate when they become too old-30!
"Another Earth" is a tale of guilt and redemption that takes us into the lives of two people whose ambitions are thwarted by an accident, who lose the will to live, but who move slowly toward redemption and recovery, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is a brainy New England student about to enroll at MIT to become an astrophysicist. She is incarcerated for four years on a charge of drunkenness after surviving a car accident that causes the death of Yale music teacher and composer John Burroughs's wife and child and leaves John in a coma. While in jail she receives news that another planet, dubbed Earth 2, has been discovered, that it probably has life. Further research indicates that the planet is the home of exactly the same people that are here on earth, except that the folks on Earth 2 do not have our histories. Therefore, if we could travel there and connect with our doppelgängers, we might avoid the mistakes we will make on our own turf.
Rhoda goes to John's house to apologize, but fails to do so, instead pretending to be from a cleaning service. Both Rhoda and John have given up on life; his house is a mess as he has gone to seed.. Rhoda has likewise succ*mbed to depression, taking a job as a night janitor in a local school. John does not know that Rhoda is the cause of his loss, as she was a minor at the time of the accident. The records are sealed.
The chemistry between John and Rhoda is happily not of the kind that Hollywood movies use to demonstrate passion, but is of a slow, faintly sizzling sort wherein we in the audience can watch every emotional nuance as it crosses the faces of the two protagonists. A twist occurs after Rhoda has written a prize-winning essay and is granted a seat on the shuttle that will launch some lucky people to Earth 2. The best aspect of this film is not the sci-fi angle but is rather concentrated here on our own planet: the credible impact that Rhoda's meetings with John have on their future, reflected so aptly in the faces of the two stars.
Unrated. 92 minutes. © 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online