Netflix Gener-a-thon: Cerebral Independent Movies (Post 1/5)

Another Earth (2010)

Director: This is Mike Cahill’s first foray into fiction filmmaking after his 2004 documentary Boxers and Ballerinas.

Country: USA

Cast Highlights: Brit Marling has become somewhat of an indie darling in recent years. After Another Earth, she went on to star in 2012’s The Sound of my Voice  – a film I have heard great things about but which I have yet to catch up with. I’m also looking forward to The East, another film she co-wrote which premiered at last month’s Sundance film festival.

As an ‘Independent Film’:

Like most films from new directors, Another Earth feels like a sketch of a film. It has an incomplete, rough quality to it – the limited budget the filmmakers were probably working with reveals itself in a narrative that seems patched together. And while these gritty elements worked for the film’s human drama, it’s more ambitious sci-fi narrative stumbles as the result of ideas not fully formed.

The product of the collaboration between writer Brit Marling and director Mike Cahill, Another Earth can be described as a human drama come sci-fi fantasy. Marling also stars in the film as Rhoda, a young woman recently released from prison after a drunk-driving accident that that kills the wife and child of esteemed musical composer John Burroughs and leaves him in a coma. Once an intelligent and ambitious young student, Rhoda is resigned to working as a Janitor in a local high school in the wake of the tragic accident she caused.

Reeling with residual guilt, she tracks down John, who has recently recovered from his coma. As Rhoda was a minor when the accident occurred, her identity is unknown to John. In a move reminiscent of Sean Penn’s character in 21 Grams, Rhoda poses as a maid from an at-home cleaning service, coming weekly to clean John’s dirty and neglected home. The two slowly begin to develop a friendship, through which John is able to release some of his grief and depression. Their friendship eventually becomes romantic, further exacerbating the fallout when Rhoda’s secret is revealed.

Rhoda and John’s relationship is set against the discovery of a mirror planet Earth – an exact replica of the one we live on. Rhoda – whose dreams of becoming a world-class astronomer were dashed by the accident – enters an essay contest to be the first person to travel to Earth 2. We learn that this alternate world is inhabited by every individual’s double, as scene in news footage where a government official communicates with her ‘twin’.

As a ‘Cerebral Film’:

The film works well as a human drama exploring the harsh realities of action and consequence. Britt Marling does an excellent job of carrying the film. As Rhoda she embodies both despair at the outcome of her drunken mistake and the hope that things can be made right. With her long blonde hair and tall thin frame, Marling is conventionally pretty. But she chooses to play against it here.  There is a sad irony to the sight of Rhoda in her grubby janitorial work jumper – suggesting a life where things have gone much different than planned. This is the first film that Marling has starred in, but I look forward to seeing more from her. William Mapother – known to me from his role as Marissa Tomei’s crazed and abusive ex-husband in In the Bedroom – does fine work as a man filled with bitterness at the hand the world has dealt him.

The story falters when it introduces existential possibilities with the science fiction elements. The ‘other earth’ acts as a somewhat obvious metaphor for the concept of redemption – can we erase our past and start again? This idea is not explored to any significant depth. It comes to feel like a contrived add-on, placed in the film to make the character drama more unique. When the two storylines are finally united in the final act of the film it doesn’t pack the philosophical punch it aims for.

If anything, Another Earth signals the coming of director and actress with loads of potential. I look forward to seeing what else comes from the obviously creative minds of Cahill and Marling.

Add to Netflix Instant Que?: A flawed but compelling drama that is definitely worth a watch.  

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