Film of the Week: Another Earth

Rating (out of 5)
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Fox Searchlight
Maike Cahill (director, writer), Brit Marling (writer)
Brit Marling, William Mapother, Matthew-Lee Erlbach
Running time

For anyone with a little imagination, a bit of patience and awareness of new age ideas this is a rewarding and thought provoking film. Despite its low budget indie credentials and look it is nevertheless an ambitious often poetic piece that asks the big questions about what it means to exist.

Critics have already made an abundance of comparisons with Another Earth’s thematic similarities to Lars Von Triers recent epic Melancholia. In both the principal character’s (both young women) experience suffering triggered by the approach of another celestial body into a near Earth orbit.

In Melancholia it's as if the gravitational force of the alien world triggers a psychological and physiological reaction in Kirsten Dunst’s Justine, but in Another Earth it’s the initial appearance of an exact replica of our own planet that leads to a life changing tragedy for Rhoda Williams (Britt Marling). With a hint of the Schrödinger’s Cat theory, Another Earth begs the question would an observed event in identical circumstances be replicated somewhere else or would the outcome be different?

The parallel universe theme requires some suspension of disbelief as it’s introduced here very casually. If an exact copy of the Earth showed up nearby, I suspect it would lead to mass panic, a worldwide spiritual and religious crisis and the scooping up of a few billion jaws from as many floors. But this is a low-budget vision with a grand scope focused on ideas rather than spectacle and it works if you just go with the flow.

Jailed for four years for killing most of a family in a drunk driving accident, young Rhoda emerges from prison to a world coming to terms with the significance of the approaching duplicate Earth. Her fascination with it is doubled by a lifelong interest in the cosmos but it provides little distraction or comfort from the burden of guilt she carries for her crime.

She attempts to face up to her demons by apologising in person to John Burroughs (William Mapother) the sole survivor of her drunken folly but when the moment comes she fumbles it and inadvertently offers her services as a cleaner. And so once a week for many moons she enters the orbit of the man whose world she has all but destroyed, slowly clearing away the physical detritus of depression and gradually a mutual healing begins to unfold.

This is Another Earth’s core and its greatest strength for it is written, directed and performed with truthfulness and great sensitivity. The evolving relationship between wounded souls is considerably moving and contains a marvellous comic sequence and a great speech about Yuri Gagarin. Throughout there’s also philosophising and existential angst about what the meaning of another version of yourself existing elsewhere might mean.

This is principally a relationship drama and despite a hint of Robert Zemeckis’ epic space odyssey Contact threaded throughout, the science fiction element here is the backdrop as are the haunting images of the second Earth. With a terrific central performance from Brit Marling (also credited as one of the writers), director Mark Cahill's deserving Sundance winner leaves a lump in the throat and a great deal of food for thought to chew on long after the final surprise gets you thinking.