Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Movies - Another Earth review


Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

Dir: Mike Cahill
Stars: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Jordan Baker
Running Time: 92mins

Another Earth may be arriving in the UK at the worst possible time - who is looking for a slow-paced, ruminative science fiction drama in the middle of the Christmas rush? - but is definitely worth seeking out should time permit. It's more of a January film, if anything: where the festive season is a time for cherishing the here and now, the new year is when thoughts turn to possibilities new and old, with resolutions made and old habits left behind. Another Earth is highly concerned with such ideas.

The second earth, which inexplicably appears in the sky one night and distracts drunken student Rhoda enough for her to cause a devastating car crash that ends with her in gaol, is not vital to the progression of the narrative, but does give it purpose. The image of it hanging in the morning sky is as beautiful as it is tantalisingly scary for the challenges it offers to the concepts of free will and predestination.
Though technically science fiction, the presence of the second earth is the only thing separating the film from straight drama. The story, in which a guilty felon goes to redeem herself in the eyes of her victim but ends up befriending him, is a familiar one and the handheld camerawork tethers the visuals to Rhoda's bleak existence. The realist aspects of the film give it heart, the science fiction gives it depth. The story may be familiar, but the presence of the second earth move it into more complex thematic territory than straightforward notions of second chances and redemption.

The most pressing concern seems to be whether we are in control of our own destinies, or merely the agent that shapes the perception of the outside forces governing our lives. Could Rhoda have ever avoided the car crash which radically altered the direction of her life? Could she have ever made her confession on her first time meeting the man whose family she was responsible for killing? The film suggests not, albeit with the caveat that a slightly different version of herself might have.

The second earth is identical in every conceivable way to our own, starting to deviate only when each became aware of the other's existence. In the inspired final shot, viewers are challenged to reconstitute its narrative backwards, with a single new piece of information changing everything. It becomes clear that the entire film has existed to reach that shot alone, its implications profound and audacity stunning.

The film lives and dies with the audience's willingness (or ability) to engage with the questions it leaves lingering, because without those philosophical depths, the narrative can feel a little too slow-paced for its own good (even at a skeletal ninety minutes) and the low-budget indie visuals and electronic soundtrack risk slipping into pretension when taken on their own merits. In other words, it's a theme picture. Despite some surface similarities, there are none of Lars Von Trier's Melancholia theatrics to keep entertained anyone waiting for the film to provide its own set of answers.

On that basis, you also have to be willing to make some fairly large leaps of faith in the reality the movie sets out: the gravitational effects of the second earth are never so much as mentioned, despite the fact that two planets in such close proximity would destroy each other: the film also goes to great lengths to point out that the second earth is a solid body, with gravity and mass and definitely not a mirror image or metaphorical.

Less extreme, but still more than a little implausible, is the idea that a corporation should able to stage a competition for citizens to win the chance for first contact with New Earth (with the rules based around applicants submitting sufficiently compelling essays, no less), with no apparent objection from global governments or space agencies. Ideas of how or why it arrived in the sky are kept (wisely) unexplained, yet will be a further frustration for anyone hoping to find even an ounce of scientific coherence.

The coupling of Brit Marling and an intense William Mapother makes a engagingly sympathetic anchor to ground those ideas in humanist form, with the former an inexperienced actress with the rare knack of being able to convey conflicting emotions and fears through subtle changes in expression alone. The arrival of the new planet in the sky promises the inhabitants of this earth an opportunity to see themselves from the outside and muse the implications for concepts of identification and loneliness. Marling's introverted and self-loathing Rhoda needs that opportunity more than anyone else, yet fears what it may tell her just as much. Another Earth is a perfect gateway for anyone looking to explore science fiction's more intellectual side - if you can't make head or tail of this, steer well away from Solyaris - and an elegantly low-key piece of humanist philosophising that demands the deepest observation. [ 8 ]


Michelle said...

Did you like the musical saw scene in Another Earth? You can hear music from it on the composer's website http://www.scottmunsonmusic.com/news/music-in-film-another-earth-soundtrack/

Xander Markham said...

Loved it! Thanks for the link, Michelle.