Sunday, 24 July 2011
Starring: William Mapother, Brit Marling
By Alan Bacchus
A great ending goes a long way in cinema, and especially in Another Earth, Mike Cahill’s low budget love story cum sci-fi film. Most of the picture is an uninspired brooding two-hander only to be buoyed by the remarkably intriguing high concept and the puzzling finale.
The premise is as follows – one day scientists discover a second earth in the sky. It’s 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 the 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 free 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 she hopes will help reconcile her mistakes of the past.
Another Earth does what sci-fi does best – it opens up the spiritual qualities of the human heart that are indefinable by science. In this case, the other version of earth serves as a form of an afterlife. It’s 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 their low budgets – filmmakers maximizing story, substance, and theme. Moon and Primer are primary examples of this. Unfortunately, Cahill uses a low rent video camera to shoot the film, which looks as if it was dusted off from 1999. This makes the picture ugly to the point of distracting us from the story. Flat lighting and uninspired camera work 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 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 and holding such immense dramatic gravity that it legitimizes the entire movie no matter how banal. I certainly won’t spoil it here, but it’s clear the film has been reverse-engineered from this point. If only Cahill had the same level of inspiration in the 85 minutes preceding this miraculous moment. I can’t think of another film tearing me two different ways in such extremes.