Another Earth

Brit Marling contemplates enormity and possibility.Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

5 Stars Why I Saw It: Press screening, powerfully drawn by its concept and poster imagery, and in need of a break from the summer superhero fare.
What I Thought: One of the best films I’ve seen in some years.

Another Earth. Dir. Mike Cahill. Perf. Brit Marling, William Mapother. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011.

The appearance of Earth’s parallel counterpart coincides with a tragic accident involving a promising student and an accomplished composer.

How do you make amends for the unamendable? How do you fashion a new life absent the irreplaceable? When holding fast to the grain of identity that makes you who you are will remind you forever daily of the loss, how do you learn to move on? Can you even? And if not, …?

Such are the questions posed by Another Earth. The most primeval and arguably unsolvable challenges of the human soul, played out against its most recent and inarguably revelatory event.

Enormity. Of the isolation and silence following the loss. Of the unification and conversation following the discovery. Of the effects of the plans and attempts to respond to each, of lives reinvented, paths striven to be recharted.

The macrocosm of humanity’s newfound identity bound to the microcosm of the personal loss of it, both of which we each experience as we speak, the former dawning and the latter in our own versions. Both shocking, both ancient.

Another Earth is that rarest among jewels, much as was the 1996 original Japanese version of Shall We Dance? (at the time one of the best movies I’d seen in twenty years): a juxtaposition of extremes positioned in such close proximity that the story reaches across every possible continuum, becoming a geometric multiple of the sum of its parts. Either story told alone could feel, even be, complete (as we’ve seen so many times), but woven together within a single character, they become something altogether unique.

It’s good to see Mapother headlining; he’s so talented, and we finally get to see him take more control of the space and show us what he’s got. He first caught my serious attention with In the Bedroom, and much like William Fichtner, et al, is one of those who lends tremendous heft to the proceedings but seems to garner little appreciation for it. (He’s also one of those, like Viola Davis, whose guest performances helped make Law & Order the sensation that it was. >sob<)

The collaboration of Brit Marling and Mike Cahill, whose film this is, counts itself among those that I will not be missing again anytime soon (or individually, for that matter). Both wrote, both produced, she starred, he directed, shot, and edited. Brilliant, both.

Marling gives a beautifully nuanced performance in which it’s easy to think nothing much is going on until you start to sense the massive cumulative effect underway; Cahill, cinematography and direction so intimate you can reach out and touch a person on the shoulder. How they, with Mapother, created an atmosphere in which we almost don’t even feel the fervor outside is something I choose not to analyze too much. Rather, just marvel.

It’ll be fun to see the film again to be able to focus more on the external magnitude vs. the internal. With the fates of Rhoda and John established, more attention can be devoted to the scientific projects underway and their relation, as with Source Code, to those emerging and underway in actual life. I’d swear there was an uncredited cameo by Richard Branson; upon investigation perhaps not, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit…

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