Another Earth

Another Earth (2011)

Another Earth first published by Film4

Summary: Polyhyphenate documentary-maker Mike Cahill’s feature debut is a subdued science fiction, looking to the heavens for perspective on its human tragedy.  

ReviewAnother Earth is a film of strange orbits and unlikely collisions. 17-year-old Rhoda Williams (co-writer/producer Brit Marling) is all set for a stellar future studying astrophysics at MIT when, looking up one night out of her car window at a new celestial body, she crashes headlong into another vehicle, putting its driver John (William Mapother) into a coma and killing his wife, son and unborn daughter. 

Four years later, the new planet has become a fixture in the sky, and appears to be an exact mirror image of Earth, right down to its individual inhabitants. Rhoda emerges from prison a guilt-ridden shadow of her former self, and gravitates towards John while dreaming  of flight to ‘Earth 2’. Yet as she volunteers to clean up the mess of John’s house (and life) without revealing who she really is, Rhoda must decide whether to face what she sees in the mirror with despair, acceptance, yearning for change, or faith in a better place. 

Another Earth may not be the only film, even within its year of release, to set ordinary human drama against a grand cosmic frame, but it prefers an enquiring earnestness to the winsome quirkiness of The Future while remaining, unlike Melancholia and The Tree of Life, resolutely low-key. Indeed the film’s SF elements, though omnipresent, are largely kept to the background (Earth 2 looms luminously overhead, with its significance and philosophical ramifications merely overheard in scientists’ media chatter), while character is very much to the fore, shot in a disarming fly-on-the-wall style that ensures everything remains rooted in our own world. 

First-time feature director Mike Cahill (who also multitasks as co-writer, DP, editor and producer) brings his experience as a documentarian to bear, dressing all his flights of fancy in a subdued naturalism. Yet just when you think that the film is really about Rhoda and John’s slow orbit, and their twinned trajectory of regret and redemption, the planetary plot comes crashing back into the narrative, delivering an ending that is, in its obliquity and openness, exquisitely perfect.   

Verdict: It may feature doppelgangers and deep space, but Mike Cahill’s astonishing debut keeps its humanist concerns grounded.

Anton Bitel