In a masterful and emotional debut, Mike Cahill adds a twist to the familiar tale of redemption and remorse. Whilst many films ask ‘what if’, very few provide the hope of an answer, Another Earth does just that. The film combines substance, with high-concept that exceeds the bounds of similar stories in a way that is truly engaging.
Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is a brilliant young woman, set for a high-flying career in astrophysics. On the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth in orbit around our own, an unfortunate mistake by Rhoda causes the death of a young family, leaving husband and father John Burroughs (William Mapother) as the only survivor. Years later, Rhoda attempts to make amends with the now recluse John Burroughs, but lacking the courage, strikes up a relationship with him under false pretences. As the relationship becomes more intense and serious, so do the opportunities the duplicate Earth provides. Winning a ticket to visit the twin planet seems to afford Rhoda the opportunity to finally know ‘what if’, however she is torn between real redemption, or running away.
The film begins with a rapid pace, that for me, was too rushed. The narrative leaps from plot point to plot point in rapid succession in order to fully dress the stage for the main performance. However, given the strength of the performance that is to follow, this does appear justified. Just like in the film however, I cannot help but wonder ‘what if’ they spent a little more time developing the characters before the horrific event.
Once the story begins, the slight discontent immediately dissipates. The relationship between Rhoda and John is the core of the film, and both actors play their parts with a quiet intensity that keeps the mood of the film simmering as it progresses. Rhoda does make John happy, but under the cover of a lie, and it’s a lie that threatens to be revealed any day.
The science-fiction part of the story is reduced to a supporting element, It may be the most significant discovery in years but it barely makes a ripple within the relationship of Rhoda and John. This juxtaposition between events only serves to highlight the central theme of redemption more acutely, and places more emphasis on the interplay between the characters; whilst the world watches a news report about Earth 2, John plays an enchanting solo for Rhoda, with a saw.
As the relationship between Rhoda and John deepens, the film is in danger of becoming dull and monotonous, perhaps even predictable. As the intense scenes are replaced with happy ones, the tension and anxiety dissipates, however, Another Earth cleverly fosters new anxiety; Rhoda wins a trip to Earth 2. Not only does this have serious implications for her relationship with John, but also for her entire life. The film now races towards this climax with a final flourish that is both unexpected, beautifully poignant and incredibly satisfying, a wonderfully masterful resolution.
Another Earth is a fantastic film, and the direction, acting and narrative all exceed the expectations of its humble, low-budget origins. There are some beautiful shots, not least those used on the poster art but the crowning glory must be the fine balance between serious drama and science-fiction, a wonderful thing to behold.