Another Earth

23 Nov

That’s no moon. You would be forgiven for comparing Another Earth to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia – another recent film that features a rather large object in the sky – but they couldn’t be more different. There’s no depression here and the world doesn’t end. In fact, this low-budget indie is one of the most interesting films of the year.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is a bright student who was accepted into MIT but ends up serving a prison sentence. Why? While driving under the influence she puts John Burroughs (William Mapother) in a coma as well as killing his wife and five-year-old son. When she gets out, she doesn’t go for a job that fits her talents but opts to clean – atoning for her sins in a Lady Macbethian manner – and ends up volunteering to clean for Burroughs. Meanwhile a planet dubbed Earth 2 has appeared in the sky and contact is made with what turns out to be parallel versions of ourselves.

Visually, the film is beautiful and all the more so when you realise how small the budget was ($200,000!). Grainy, handheld camerawork helps to anchor the film firmly in reality, preventing it from floating off into clinical Kubrickian territory. The soundtrack is haunting and ethereal – the perfect compliment to the film, particularly the character of Rhoda.

Brit Marling carries every scene with her low-key, naturalistic acting with facial expressions a pivotal means of understanding her complex character. Rhoda is withdrawn from life, full of angst and burdened with regret that fuels her self-destructive behaviour. She sets out to atone for her sins but ends up manipulating the man she victimised in the first place. Burroughs’ performance is more straightforward, less remarkable but equally as affecting as a man who has lost everything he held dear.

Another Earth turns out to be a moving meditation on the choices we make in life and the chances we get to make up for the choices that go wrong. Did the me on Earth 2 make the same mistakes? Can you ever truly be absolved of your sins or only mask your past misdeeds under a facade? The poetic fatalism of the film makes it one of the most doleful films of the year and indeed of the most heartrending films to come out of the sci-fi genre for some time.

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