Another Earth – 2011
Directed by Mike Cahill
Starring Brit Marling, William Mapother, Kumar Pallana
Written by Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
There is an overwhelming melancholy that permeates every inch of Another Earth. Every action is a deliberate intention to right a wrong, to help a vacant heart, to serve someone completely. The wrong that has been done is the result of a night celebrating. Rhoda Williams (Marling) has been accepted to go to MIT. She celebrates with her friends. Then she drives home, running her car into the vehicle of composer John Burroughs (Mapother). This kills Burroughs’ wife and child, and places him in a coma. While he recovers from the physical ailments, Rhoda serves a 4 year prison sentence. The moment she gets out, her mission is clear, to her, if not the viewer.
She gets a job as a janitor at the local school, and, in her free time, seeks out and finds the victim of her folly. From here, the story takes a turn that would be best left for you to see.
Except for the following twist: on the night that all of their lives changed for the worst, it is revealed that another M-class planet had been discovered, approaching our planet. Moving through the story, we discover that not only is the planet another M-Class, but it is seemingly identical to Earth. A rich philanthropist / entrepreneur has offered a free trip to the new planet for someone who wins an essay writing contest. It is obvious that the brilliant Rhoda will be entering this contest. And what kind of story would it be if she did not win?
The heart of the story is in the relationships between Rhoda, John, and one of her co-workers, Purdeep. There is a delicate way she handles the weight she carries inside of her. Never for a moment does she waver in her service to John, even though she withholds disclosing who she really is. Her status as a minor protected her from divulging her identity. Purdeep, however, is attuned to her sadness. The moments they share in the movie are among the most sincere I have witnessed this year.
This movie is an interesting one despite its flaws. The science involved, if possible, is beyond my comprehension. What seems unlikely, if accepted, adds an incredible depth to the proceedings. Mapother and Marling seem entirely up to the task of bearing that weight. There is a predictability to the events, just like the best cover artists in music, it’s how you play the notes.
Mapother was a bit actor on television and movies for many years, with his most noticeable foray into the public’s conscience was as the “Other” Ethan, in the classic television show, LOST. Here he strikes a chord as a man who is kind and decent, even when suffering the most powerful pain imaginable. His performance is as subtle as it is deep. His bout with alcoholism seems like one he is just looking for a reason to get over. Once he finds that reason, it is just a matter of how he will handle the truth of who it was that affected his life so terribly.
Marling is someone I have not seen before, but won’t soon forget. Her performance is tragic and overwhelming, but is also organically full of hope. Whatever she has done, it’s not beyond redemption, and very much possible to repair, no matter how long it takes. She feels the possibility of there being another one of her out there, somewhere, and she almost counts on it. The feelings she expresses while so in control of her outward demeanor are practically desirous of bursting forth, but never will. She co-wrote the script, with director Mike Cahill, and it shows. She lives and breathes this character, but she will never let it go. She deserves a nomination for best actress, to be sure. While this is not the last we will see of her, one can hope she doesn’t go the full Jennifer Lawrence. At least not right away.
This is a movie that won’t be for everyone. It is relentlessly sad, with a sliver of hope shining throughout. The sci-fi aspects of the film play as an undercurrent to the events. There is little effect on the gravitational effect of having a large planet mass approaching another through orbits and gravitational fields. Some scenes were deleted out of the final edit to show this, and this was a wise choice. The best scene is saved for the last, and the ending will leave you debating, but happy.
Cahill has a deft, and clever touch that should show promise the more it develops. Like Marling, I think we will be seeing a lot of him in the next few years.
If you want to enjoy a good work from talented artists, see this movie, and tell others years later that you got in on the ground floor.
(****1/2 out of *****)