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Another Earth

A movie directed by Mike Cahill

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Absolutely intriguing mash-up of grieving drama and sci-fi fantasy.

  • Jan 19, 2012
***1/2 out of ****

I know, I know; "Another Earth" is not, in the slightest, an easy film to like. It is depressing, slow, and somber; enhanced by the moody cinematography of its maker. But the writer and director, Mike Cahill, has made a film that isn't easy to like also very easy to admire; and I consider that to be some kind of achievement. It may not be great one; but regardless, Cahill has made a film that quenched my thirst for intrigue. It's daring, it's brilliant, and it's even resonant. There's little more I could ask out of a movie that advertises itself as more of a science fiction flick than the realistic, human drama that it is.

So you take a look at the title; and there you know a significant portion of the film's premise. There is indeed another earth; and it's visible to the naked eye as it lies still in the sky. Scientists are busy theorizing; while the people of Earth 1 - as it's been called since the discovery of this alternative planet - are uncertain. The planet itself plays a huge role in the film's story; but Cahill is smarter than the average storyteller; and he has a different kind of story to tell than that of, say, "Melancholia"; another film where a planet - previously unbeknownst to man - hovered above earth and ensured eventual annihilation. This simply is not the case here. This "other earth" will not collide with the current one and destroy everything and everyone in the process. It will simply sit there and exist until someone musters up the courage to make their way upwards, in a literal sense.

Here's a good place to begin: a young woman - whose name is Rhoda (Brit Marling) - drives home whilst intoxicated one night and is easily distracted by a radio talk show claiming the presence of another, unidentified planet in the sky. Curious, Rhoda sticks her head out her car window and looks towards the sky; successfully locating the little blue planet and staring at it for quite some time, until a fatal collision with another car on the road causes her to, in a manner of speaking, loose focus.

The car that she hit belonged to a successful composer named John Burroughs (William Mapother). His wife and only child were also in the vehicle; only he survived. Given that she is technically a minor, Rhoda's identity is never revealed to John; and she then serves a 4-year prison sentence. After serving her time, she returns home; but not to her life as she once knew it. Rhoda has lost most of her opportunities in life; no more MIT (the college where she had planned to study in the near future before the accident), and no more open jobs of essential decency. Her sensibilities have also changed; and she learns to cope with her hardships. She finds a job as a janitor for a local school, and intends to keep that job as long as she possibly can.

But John was, in a sense, a victim to Rhoda's intoxication and ignorance. This is why she feels it necessary to track him down after he's recovered and apologize for the losses that he suffered as result of her bad decision-making skills. She shows up at John's door-step one day intent on going through with her personal promise (the apology), but finds herself too nervous to do so. Instead, she claims to be a maid working for a company called "Maid in Haven"; offering a full day's trial of free cleaning service. John accepts the offer; and impressed by Rhoda's talents in the fields of hands-on labor, he asks her to come back on the same day of the next week. Rhoda does just that; and soon, the two are involved in a romantic relationship that tends to rock back and forth on the emotional scale; but good dramas have balance, and this is a very good one at that.

There have been quite a few grieving dramas from 2011. "Trust" was one of them; it enjoyed considerably positive reception from most critics (I wasn't one of the more enthusiastic ones, mind you), as it was a genuinely honest crowd-pleaser. "Another Earth" is, in all respects, a better movie; not only as a drama fixated on grief but also on the many things from above. By juggling as many ideas and different genres as Rhoda does jobs and emotions; Cahill has made an ambitious, eye-catching feature. It does not commit any unthinkable cinematic sins; in fact, I think the only one it could commit is inspiring intrigue but not fulfilling it with success, and that is one thing that the film avoids. "Another Earth" has plenty of bigger, better ideas up its sleeve; but those are for the after-thought, and I haven't gotten there yet.

I'll probably be thinking about this one for a long time. I'll be thinking about that other earth not too far from ours; I'll be thinking about the outstanding performances from Marling and Mapother; and I shall also be thinking hard - very hard - about what Cahill meant when he crafted the film's closing scene. I won't reveal exactly what it is, but it certainly stirred me up; and looking at the largely divided critical reception, I think it had the same impact on a few other critics too. That is expected. I think it's one of those endings where the storyteller responsible wishes for the viewer to think individually and outside the box; coming to a personal conclusion. I think that's what I'll do, and preferably as soon as possible, because I will be telling my friends all about this movie; and what's a recommendation without a full understanding?

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More Another Earth reviews
review by . March 01, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Another Earth is unworldly, economical, sad, hopeful, fulfilling. Maybe.       Seventeen-year-old Rhonda Williams (Bret Marling) is a bright kid with a promising future. She’s part of a nice, middle-class family. She also is sometimes wild and irresponsible. When she drives off in the family car one night, she’s drunk. She crashes head on into a car driven by the composer and teacher, John Burroughs (William Mapother). The crash kills Burroughs’ pregnant …
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Watching Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, about an approaching planet led me to this movie made around the same time.    As Another Earth begins, we are introduced to a bright, attractive young girl with a brilliant future, with an interest in the Cosmos, and she has just got into MIT.    When another earth with the same continents and oceans appears in the sky, people get excited, some are nervous. As she drives along that night, a radio announcer talks excitedly …
review by . December 31, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Another Earth' is the kind of movie that deserves some pondering and a second look. There's a tptation to pigeon hole our expectations into making this a great space adventure, but it's not. It is science fiction, but if my memoty serves me correctly from high school, this is soft (i.e. read social issues based, rather than hard (i.e. read science technology based) science fiction voyage. Some can be both, and this one is also both, but is far more the former than the latter.    Cosmic …
review by . December 06, 2011
posted in Awesomeness
FADE IN:       Spoiled brat Brit Marling is driving home shitfaced listening to the exposition on the radio when she sees Another Earth in the sky.      CUT TO another car containing a perfect family.   WILLIAM MAPOTHER   Holy shit, this family's so nuclear I'm amazed Iran hasn't tried to weaponize it. Brit Marling like totally runs a light or something and wipes out the nuclear family's car - KA-POW! - even though …
review by . July 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Perhaps it’s both the greatest strength and the biggest weakness of Another Earth that it’s open to interpretation. On the one hand, you’re not bound by the constraining intentions of the filmmakers; you’re free to put your own spin on the plot, the characters, and the imagery. On the other hand, if you have no narrative guidelines to fall back on, you may paradoxically be constrained by the latitude you’re given. I …
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Ryan J. Marshall ()
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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