Another Earth

Ambitious, but flawed, low-budget sci-fi drama...


2 stars



Another Earth - Rhoda stands in front of Earth 2


Director: Mike Cahill

Starring: William Mapother, Brit Marling


Ripe with metaphor, offering the possibility of interesting narrative hooks as well as the potential for unique and inventive visuals, there's something endlessly attractive about science fiction for first-time directors.


From John Carpenter's comedic Dark Star to Duncan Jones' stately Moon via Darren Aronofsky's beguiling Pi, it's clear that sci-fi truly is the gift that keeps on giving.


The latest film to join this seemingly evergreen sub-genre is Another Earth, the debut effort from Connecticut-based writer/director Mike Cahill and co-writer/ star Brit Marling.


Another Earth - Rhoda looks at Earth mark 2

Starting from a very simple premise: what would happen if you could meet another version of yourself, Cahill and Marling concoct a story of guilt, forgiveness and parallel worlds that attempts to make its budgetary limitations (it was made for around $200,000) work in its favour.


The plot follows high school student, Rhoda Williams (Marling) as she celebrates her recent acceptance to MIT. After a drunken night out with friends, the intoxicated Rhoda drives home, listening to a bizarre story on the car radio about how another planet, oddly resembling our own, is fast approaching Earth. Looking out of the window of her car at the night sky, Rhoda ends up ploughing into the car of Yale music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother), killing both his wife and son and putting the musician into a coma.


As a result of the accident, Rhoda doesn't go to MIT and instead ends up serving four years in a correctional facility for her crime. However, with her sentence completed, Rhoda finds herself released into a world that has changed since she was last free.


Another Earth now hangs in the sky and there's evidence of a parallel population living upon its surface. Are the people on this mirror world just like us? Are they different? Or are their lives similar, yet somehow divergent from our own?


The answers to all of these questions remain frustratingly out of reach, but there's an upcoming, manned private expedition to this other Earth planned and Rhoda decides to apply for a space on the flight.


Alongside this, Rhoda also manages to make contact with the still struggling John Burroughs. Like Rhoda, his life has been shattered by the accident and he seems unable to move beyond his grief for his wife and son.


Managing to trick her way into his home by pretending to be a courtesy cleaner for a local maid firm, Rhoda soon becomes Burroughs' regular cleaner as she secretly tries to assuage herself of her guilt at causing the accident. But when the truth comes out about her true connection to Burroughs, what is the price Rhoda will have to pay...?


While the set up of Another Earth is undoubtedly intriguing, sadly it's execution leaves a lot to be desired. On the technical front, director Cahill is clearly a filmmaker of some promise, and the way he both edits and juxtaposes his footage to sound and music is reminiscent of Steven Soderbergh.


However, despite the clear evidence of technique, the script just doesn't rise to the same level of quality or subtlety.


Another Earth - Rhoda shares a drink with John

Essentially a two-hander between Rhoda and John, ultimately Another Earth stands or falls on the believability and depth of the drama in the scenes between Mapother and Marling. While both actors fully commit to their roles (with Marling in particular marking herself out) the material is both clich├ęd and grimly po-faced, while Mapother reminds us why he's never really been anything more than a supporting actor.


Dramatic shortcomings apart, far more damaging to the film overall is its treatment of the whole parallel earth concept.


Seemingly unsure as to whether the film should commit to its central genre idea or continue to paddle in the waters of 'intense' indie drama, Another Earth ends up flirting with both and convincing as neither.

The net result of this is that the 'shock' ending of the movie, which should really make us feel something (anything!) for Rhoda and her struggle, really doesn't pack the punch it should on either a visceral or a dramatic level.


While an impressively made debut feature, Another Earth is ultimately a cold, unengaging and remote film that promises much, yet delivers little.


Cahill and Marling are clearly a talented pair, but to have successful careers both will need stronger material than this to help them on their way.


James Peaty



Click here for the trailer:



Another Earth
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Carol Connors

American Beauty star Thora Birch's mom acted in 21 adult films, including Deep Throat, under the name Carol Connors before retiring in 1993.


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