Geekscape at Sundance 2011
Director: Mike Cahill
Screenwriters: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
U.S.A., 2011, 90min, Color
Principal Cast: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor, Flint Beverage
Unlike what the title suggests, Another Earth is not first and foremost a sci-fi flick. It is really a story of what the director, Mike Cahill, refers to as the ‘human condition,” peppered with bits of sci-fi. Written by Cahill and Brit Marling (who plays Rhoda Williams), this project was in their complete control. Cahill also directed, produced, shot, and edited the film. Marling, Cahill and one of the producers, Nicholas Shumaker, previously collaborated on an award-winning documentary shot in Cuba: “Boxers and Ballerinas”. I would venture to guess that Another Earth is not their last collaboration, and they are each likely to have individual careers (Marling is in “Sound of My Voice”, also at Sundance this year).
Marling does a good job in her starring role. It is clear that having co-written the script, she has an uncanny understanding of the character. William Mapother plays John Burroughs, a college professor whose life is brutally changed when Rhoda Williams, a brilliant MIT student, slams into his car, killing his pregnant wife, and toddler son. The reason Williams takes her eyes off the road has less to do with the party, which she had just attended, and more with the newly discovered Earth 2. A planet suddenly discovered due to changed cosmic conditions, which appears to mirror our Earth almost exactly.
We pick back up when Williams gets out of prison, trying to or perhaps delaying putting her shattered life together. As she re-connects with the professor whose life she destroyed, under less than admirable, though understandable pretenses, the two manage to bring each other “back to life.” All throughout, Williams contemplates the possibility of another Earth, a better life, where perhaps a better version of “her” could exist. Does it? Does it matter if it does? And could she ever meet herself?
In his director’s statement, Cahill describes how in a quest for verité realism, he deliberately chose not to use the 35mm prime lens kit in his arsenal. Going for a low-fi look to contrast with the CGI Earths – he wanted to achieve that feeling you get, when while watching a home video, you ‘catch a glimpse of something extraordinary.’
The premise is novel and clever The storyline and finished product have clearly been labored on intently. The film brings up interesting philosophical issues about fate and our general ability to change the course of our lives. I found that the fresh storyline held my attention, I was constantly thinking: what will happen next?
That being said, there are points when film is slow, and some of the things that at times remain unsaid between characters do make you uncomfortable. Overall, I don’t think that this film is a must-see, but you are likely to get some personal takeaways if you do.