Director: Mike Cahill
Having confidence in your film is one thing, and it’s clear that director Mike Cahill has confidence to spare in his debut feature Another Earth. It’s another thing to see that confidence is utterly misplaced, as Another Earth is guilty of delivering far less than its intriguing trailer or beautiful posters promise.
At the centre of Another Earth is, well, another Earth! Specifically, it’s a replica of Earth (imaginatively named Earth 2) that appears in the sky one night, out of nowhere. Your first question is either “How is that possible?” or “Didn’t something similar happen in Melancholia?” The latter can be answered in the affirmative but, as in that depressing snoozefest, this replica Earth just shouldn’t be. For a flick that wears its down-n-dirty grounded indie credentials on its sleeve, Another Earth couldn’t give two hoots about such things as science or logic. We learn that this planet is supposed to be populated by duplicates of every person on this Earth. Again, no rhyme or reason, just shut up and accept it like a good little audience.
Earth 2 first appears on the same night as the graduation celebrations for Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling). She drives home after a drunken evening and ends up causing a car accident that kills the wife and son of university academic John Burroughs (William Mapother), and puts him in a coma for months. Rhoda goes to jail and emerges four years later, just as NASA scientists prepare for first audio contact with Earth 2. She gets a menial cleaning job whilst trying to rebuild her life, but the guilt of the accident constantly gnaws at her. She decides to reveal herself to Burroughs, but bottles it and offers cleaning services for the now-destitute academic. Meanwhile, Earth 2 hovers above like the giant forehead-slapping MacGuffin that it is. Rhoda wants another shot at life, and a competition for a place on the first space-flight to Earth 2 is her chance. Another Earth is preoccupied with the idea of second chances. Yet, when we see her and Burrogh’s relationship developing whilst he remains unaware of what she did, all the talk about Earth 2 starts to seem silly. Another Earth feels like two interesting films smashed together to make an uninteresting whole. The story between Rhoda and Burroughs could have made for a very compelling drama on its own, whilst the discovery of a second Earth could have resulted in something akin to Melancholia on happy pills. Instead, we get a muddled and underdeveloped mess. Cahill and Marling’s script plays down the sci-fi element, either as a willful act of pretentiousness or in the knowledge they’d shoot on a shoestring (or probably a combination of both factors). The lo-fi approach extends to Cahill’s direction and camerawork, which reeks of indie smugness. The score by Fall On Your Sword is over-intrusive, whilst the attempts at depth and mysticism grate (Rhoda’s co-worker is a blind Indian wise man. Er, deep?) The only saving graces are Marling’s and Mapother’s performances, which are heartfelt and involving enough to see you through the film’s choppier elements. However, their relationship is based around the arrival of Earth 2 and, considering how often we actually forget it’s even there, makes their plotline feel like it’s operating without a context. Had Cahill removed the sci-fi altogether, this could have been interesting and emotionally rewarding. As it is, Another Earth is an infuriatingly smug flick, reaching way above its station to the point of near intolerability.