The indie film, ‘Another Earth’ was a Sundance 2011 favorite and was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at this year’s festival. Interestingly, writer/actress Brit Marling graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in economics and briefly worked on Wall Street before getting into filmmaking. She is a talented new face on the indie scene. She co-wrote ‘Another Earth’ with director Mike Cahill. It is an ambitious film that is filled with thought-provoking questions with metaphysical undertones. Marling’s low-key performance won me over.
The film opens with one of the most stunning cinematic images I’ve seen in a long time. A new planet appears in the sky which looks exactly like Earth and is four times the size of the moon. It is surreal like a Dali painting because it is visible in the daylight. The scientists and media dub this new planet ‘Earth 2.’ A corporation sponsors an essay contest and the winner gets a free ticket to visit this new planet. It’s a bit campy but it works in the context of the story.
Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) has just found out that she has been accepted to MIT. During a night of drinking and partying with friends, she drives home intoxicated. She ends up crashing her car into another car driven by Yale music professor and composer John Burroughs (William Mapother). As a result of the accident, Burrough’s wife (unborn daughter) and young son are killed instantly. He becomes a recluse and Rhoda is sent to prison for 4 years.
Upon her release from prison, Rhoda wants to find Burroughs and apologize to him. As she knocks on the door of his house, she finds him so grief stricken that she doesn’t reveal her identity to him. He doesn’t recognize her anyway. She tells him that she works for a maid service that is offering a free house cleaning trial. He allows her into his house and she sees empty bottles and dirty dishes everywhere. From the looks of Burrough’s house, you can tell he is still severely depressed over his loss. He hires her to clean his house once a week and she integrates herself into his life.
The developing relationship between Rhoda and John Burroughs is the crux of the film. When Rhoda is cleaning John’s unkempt house, it appears to be a cathartic experience for her. Through her cleaning visits, she gets to know the man on a personal level. This kind gesture from Rhoda is not that simple. John is becoming smitten by her good looks and intelligence. She even tells him about her desire to enter the essay contest and win a free trip to ‘Earth 2.’ John asks her, ‘If you met yourself, what would you say? Rhonda replies, ‘Better luck next time.’
Writer/director Mike Cahill is a talented filmmaker. He made a captivating film on a shoestring budget. It is a minimalist film. Cahill understands the importance of letting the action tell the story rather than verbose dialogue. I’ve seen this technique used effectively in another indie film that came out earlier this summer called ‘Meek’s Cutoff.’ This film is not exactly like a real sci-fi film like Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) would make. That’s okay with me. The whole Earth 2 idea is simply a hook to make us ponder questions about grief, loss, redemption, and second chances.
Again, Brit Marling is a fresh new talent. She has the looks and charm to be in big budget Hollywood films. Yet, she and Cahill make a good filmmaking duo so it will be cool to see them collaborate on another project. A shout-out goes to Natalia Paruz, the ‘Saw Lady’ for playing the music that Scott Munson, composer came up with for the wonderful soundtrack. ‘Another Earth’ is now playing at The Flicks theatre downtown Boise. Movie times.