Wednesday, 26 January 2011
SUNDANCE 2011: Another Earth
Starring: William Mapother, Brit Marling
By Alan Bacchus
A great ending goes along way in cinema and especially in Another Earth, Mike Cahill’s low budget love story cum sci-fi film. For most of the picture it’s an uninspired brooding two hander only to be buoyed by the remarkably intriguing high concept and the puzzling finale.
The premise is this, one day scientists discover a second earth in the sky. The exact same earth, inhabited by earthlings just like us. Doppelgangers maybe? Alternate versions of ourselves maybe? The possibilities are absolutely fascinating.
This premise is left in the background ineffectual to the plot until the ending. In between, it’s a story of Rhoda (Brit Marling) and John (William Mapother) who are connected by a tragic car accident of which John’s family was the victim and Rhoda the assailant. Four years after serving time Rhoda is out and finds herself drawn to and eventually connecting with John by posing as a house cleaner. Meanwhile Rhoda enters a contest to be on the first crew to travel to the other earth, called Earth 2, a journey which she hopes will help reconcile her mistakes of the past.
Another Earth does what sci-fi does best, open up the spiritual qualities of the human heart indefinable by science. In this case the other version of earth serves as a form of an afterlife. A perfect metaphor both thematically and visually, as the other earth sits prominently in the sky at all times, looming over our characters at home.
Ordinarily with such a confined story, films like these often benefit from its low budget - filmmakers maximizing story and substance and theme - Moon and Primer as primary examples. Unfortunately Cahill’s low rent video camera employed to shoot the film, which looks as if it was dusted off from 1999, uglify the picture to the point of distracting us from the story. Flat lighting and uninspired camerawork and composition don’t do justice to the sparkling story revealing itself.
Brit Marling and William Mapother are adequate though mostly unmemorable as would be lovers. And the guts of this film, Rhoda’s deception and eventual love story with John, are just as clunky. The second act slows us down to a crawl and the director’s rudimentary visual style wears the film thin.
Cahill’s wild card is the stunning final shot, a shot so powerful holding such immense dramatic gravity it legitimizes the entire movie no matter how banal. I certainly won’t spoil it here, but it’s clear the film has been reversed-engineered from this point. If only Cahill had the same level of inspiration in the 85 mins preceding this miraculous moment. I can’t think of another film tearing me two different ways in such extremes.