Another Earth may be a high concept Sci-Fi in its synopsis, a film exploring the idea of there being a second identical Earth within our solar system, but the execution is on a much more low-key, character driven level. And all the better for it.
Driving home from a party, Rhoda (Brit Marling) hears on the radio that a planet identical to our own has been discovered. Squinting into the sky to have a look for herself Rhoda drives at full speed into another car, killing the mother and child inside and leaving the husband in a coma. After four years in prison she returns to civilization as Earth 2 looms ever closer. While trying to apologise to John (William Mapother) whose family she killed, Rhoda instead begins working for him as a cleaner before growing closer to John over time. Meanwhile contact between the two Earths is established and so it is discovered that everyone on our planet also exists up on the alternative planet. Did the alternative version of Rhoda also kill John’s family?
With its low-budget and a focus on the effects of a Sci-Fi worthy event on the characters, rather than on the event itself, makes Another Earth a perfect fit for my Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction* genre so expertly defined by Never Let Me Go. There is no time wasted exploring why Earth has a twin or on the inevitable first exploratory shuttle trip. We only learn about the fantastical event through coverage on the news and gossip between family members. This human touch makes the film all the more believable, debut director Mike Cahill wisely knows that the less you explain something, the less explanations the audience wants.
Speaking of Cahill, he has a beautiful eye. So much of Another Earth could be framed and put up on the wall, its textured look is pleasing to the eye and not bogged down in too much dialogue and what dialogue there is has a natural sound. The film may not feature as much heavy knitwear as Never Let Me Go but it certainly embodies that aesthetic; rough to the touch but comforting all the same.
Brit Marling plays Rhoda with a real complexity, a woman trying to atone for her sins, yet somehow by doing so is committing a selfless act. One act in particular which could be seen as one of love is in fact the cruellest she could have committed… after killing someone’s family of course. Holding up the other end of the film is William Mapother as the man who has lost everything. When we first see Mapother he is a man with nothing left to live for, a man who has given up, and through his relationship with Rhoda we see him rebuilt as a human being. The transition is sweet to watch, but the looming discovery of Rhoda’s true identity leaves the audience fearing for his sanity.
Barring a few pretentious moments courtesy of a self-harming janitor, Another Earth is a flawless film that is tender, tense and beautiful. The film essentially washes over the audience and all you need do is simply sit back and let it in. Arguably the Sci-Fi element could have been explored a little more but for me the human story at the centre was more than enough to fill a film.
Another Earth is a treat for any fan of independent cinema and has more emotional weight than most tent-pole blockbusters (and plenty of Oscar contenders too).
*Heavy Knitwear Science Fiction = Any film with a science fiction plot which focuses more on character than plot, and has characters wearing thick jumpers rather than jumpsuits.