Sundance 2011 Review: ANOTHER EARTH
Editor's note: this review was originally published on January 25, 2011 as a Sundance Film Festival review.
In times of great pain, what a comfort to imagine another world out there, a parallel universe where our biggest tragedies have just never happened, other versions of ourselves living happily unaware. But what if that other world was real? How then to ease our pains, how then to repent, how to make things right when they are right, just somewhere else? In Mike Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH, two very broken individuals attempt to answer these questions, as a second Earth reveals itself and hangs peacefully in the sky, promising redemption that has no place on this Earth?
Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the film’s script with Cahill) was a promising young high school student, just accepted to MIT, when a night of drinking and driving led to her crashing into the Burroughs family, killing wife and son. Left behind was husband and father John Burroughs (William Mapother), also at a pinnacle in his life as a composer and professor. Both Rhoda and John are destroyed by the events of the night of the crash, incidentally (cough, or not, cough) the same night Earth 2 revealed itself in the sky. Four years later, and both are living vacant existences that are void of peace or salvation – until a misunderstanding places them in each other’s lives in a very different, very new way.
Visually, the film is interesting and pleasing to the eye, using muted colors to present scenes that look miles more important and dynamic than they are to the actual story the films chooses to tell. It’s a very quiet film, with a consistent lack of dialogue that could alternately be called “economical” or “boring.” Marling and Mapother are an interesting, if hard to buy, pair – yet there is good performance here, as less talented actors would have made the film genuinely unbearable to watch.
ANOTHER EARTH, though ostensibly a very small relationship drama, suffers because of the insularity of its two main characters. The concept of “another Earth” is interesting enough to warrant more attention paid to its effects on other people, not just Rhoda and John. The film I wanted to see was that one – a fuller approach that allowed the sci-fi elements to work as much more than a generally flimsy plot driver.
The real problem with ANOTHER EARTH is that its two major plot threads fail to meet in a way that feels fresh enough to match the ambition of the story. Though the circumstances of Rhoda and John’s relationship are certainly emotionally provocative (though not quite original, feeling like a strange mix of such disparate titles as IN THE BEDROOM and BOUNCE), they pale in comparison to all the other possibilities that Earth 2 opens up – possibilities not just for story, but for real innovation and cinematic dreaming. Cahill and Marling are clearly interested in the technical elements of their other Earth, but the entire enterprise is bogged down by an unengaging romance and a number of nearly ludicrous diversions along the way to a final shot that is easily the most interesting and provocative part of the entire film.