Since its beginnings, film has struggled to be accepted as a legitimate form of art on par with painting, poetry and sculpting; styles which have been around for centuries. As a relatively new form of expression, artists who work in this forum are constantly trying to convince high-minded critics that their work should be considered as important as what we see hanging in
museums around the world. This argument is likely to continue for a long time, but Another Earth will certainly make it harder for those who claim cinema is not a true art form.
The film’s premise is predicated on the discovery of a duplicate Earth which has appeared in our solar system. At first, Earth 2 is merely a blue dot in the night sky, but after several years it becomes possible to recognize it as identical to our own with the naked eye. After making audio contact with the planet, it’s realized that all 6.3 billion people of our planet also exist on Earth 2. Soon, an adventurous billionaire decides to build a shuttle to take select individuals to visit the other planet.
The focus of the film, though, is on Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a brilliant high school student who makes a terrible mistake and destroys the life of one man, John Burroughs (William Mapother). After killing John’s wife and young son in a car crash, Rhoda goes to prison and is released four years later. Once on the road to MIT to become an astrophysicist, she now works as a custodian at a high school, the only job she believes she is worthy to hold. After seeing John on the anniversary of the accident, Rhoda goes to apologize to him but loses her nerve, instead pretending to be from a maid service. As a result of her ruse, she inserts himself into his life and experiences the full scope of what she did.
Marling co-wrote the script for Another Earth with director Mike Cahill. The two are college friends and worked tirelessly on this project for several years. The result is absolutely extraordinary and is one of the most beautiful films in recent memory. Cahill, whose only previous film was the documentary Boxers and Ballerinas, demonstrates his talent as a filmmaker with the magnificent images he captures throughout the film. Serving also as cinematographer, Cahill alternates uncomfortably intimate close-ups of the characters with breathtaking panoramic views of the sky with Earth 2 in full view. This very cognizant choice highlights how we obsess over the issues that affect us but which have very little impact in the big picture. The micro/macro battle that is being waged in the film is constantly being reinforced through the dichotomy of Cahill’s shifting perspectives.
At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Marling had not one, but two films in which she starred and co-wrote. Being screened in addition to Another Earth was Sound of My Voice for which she received tremendous reviews. Without a doubt, Marling will be a great influence on film, either as a writer or actress. Marling gives a truly wonderful performance which is incredibly introverted and understated.
In Another Earth, she is silent nearly the entire film, but we are never unclear as to what she is thinking or feeling. Though she has done something unforgiveable, no one is nearly as hard on Rhoda as she is on herself. Rhoda is a very conflicted character that Marling has obviously been working on since the script was still taking shape and there in no other actress which could have captured the character as well as she has.
Cahill has described the film as “minimalist sci-fi,” and that may be appropriate if one were trying to pitch the idea to a studio or quickly describe it to a friend. However, Another Earth cannot be summed up in a simple description and deserves to be called what it truly is: art.
This film runs 92 minutes and is rated PG-13.