KPBS film critic Beth Accomand reviews the new indie sci-fi film "Another Earth."
Related Story: Review: 'Another Earth'
KPBS-FM Radio Feature: "Another Earth" Interviews
By Beth Accomando
Air date: August 4, 2011
The indie film "Another Earth" reminds us that the best science fiction doesn't emphasize the science but rather the humanity in a story. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando speaks with the film's director and star about their Sundance hit.
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TAG: "Another Earth" opens tomorrow (Friday) at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas. You can find more of Beth's reviews on her blog Cinema Junkie at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.
This summer robots nearly leveled a U.S. city and aliens wreaked havoc on the Old West. To Hollywood, science fiction is about CGI, spaceships, and mass destruction. But there's another tradition of science fiction that puts the science in the background so the human story can take center stage. This suits independent filmmakers who may be rich in ideas but poor in funding. So indie films like "The Man who Fell to Earth,""Pi," "Primer," and "Moon" dazzle us with storytelling rather than effects. Now you can add "Another Earth" to this list.
CLIP This will be a trip like no other. We will give people who travel with us a unique and life changing experience. Travel to Earth 2.
MIKE CAHILL: The idea for Another Earth came from a very emotional question which was what would you feel if you could confront another version of yourself?
That's the question filmmaker Mike Cahill wanted to explore.
MIKE CAHILL: I wanted the science fiction to be very minimal just to ask that one question. And so in the foreground there's this really intense human drama, it zooms into something about what it means to be human, what it means to seek forgiveness, and the big orb of the earth up in the sky helps inform the bigger decisions... That's it. That's where the science fiction ends.
Seeing that duplicate earth for the first time distracts the main character Rhoda and causes her to crash into another car, killing two of the occupants. Brit Marling plays Rhoda and co-wrote the screenplay with Cahill.
BRIT MARLING: That grief, that suffering she is going through is overwhelming... Mike and I talked about that a lot when we were writing that we wanted her to have sort of like this warrior like energy in the way that she is trying to deal with the grief and trying to construct a meaningful life in the wake of what has happened.
Earth 2 offers escape for Rhoda, a way to fantasize about getting away from her guilt. But then she meets the man whose family she killed and she starts to wonder if things might be different for their alter egos on Earth 2. This opens up a whole range of possibilities that audiences may not expect says Marling.
BRIT MARLING: Our story intelligence is so high like audiences are beginning to be able to predict everything before it happens. Sci-fi is cool because it's telling you a human drama sort of a thriller love story but it's putting a fresh lens on it.
The second earth looms brightly in the sky, constantly reminding us of a vast array of possibilities. It's both a luminous symbol of hope and a slightly ominous sign of uncertainty. It's something that looks intensely familiar to us yet it's disconcerting to see it in this context.
With the simplest of effects, Cahill creates a dazzling film. In some ways his tiny budget is an asset. Cahill says not using special effects means that the audience is more engaged because it has to fill in some details.
MIKE CAHILL: It also allows the audience to imagine, to engage their minds, their imagination and let it soar, and it allows us to do interesting things on a budget but be very clever in the way that you approach it.
BRIT MARLING: And also to rely on story.
BRIT MARLING: One of the things that's so crazy about CGI is that you can do anything now so if there's a problem you throw CGI at it. And it becomes all about spectacle and there's no story framework underneath and what's great about not having that much money is your story better be really solid.
But it's also about not telling the audience how to think or feel but rather leaving elements of the story for them to figure out for themselves. Cahill says it's like building a bridge.
MIKE CAHILL: Ideally the audience will build some bricks to connect, they will project themselves on screen and connect. They will reach forward and then when we unite that's where the emotional transference goes down and... I like it being open to interpretation and thought provoking.
The audience exiting the screening I saw was all a buzz in conversation, excited not just by the film but by the questions and ideas it raised. That delights Marling who thought the audience for the film would be limited to the folks that could fit into Cahill's living room.
BRIT MARLING: I don't think we ever know that you could have made something that would really impact people, you know make them sort of speechless and take their breath away for a moment and that to me was still shocking.
With quiet grace and thoughtful storytelling, "Another Earth" reminds us of how smart and provocative indie filmmaking can be, and how inspiring it is to look up at the screen and experience a sense of wonder... much like catching a glimpse of a second earth in the sky.
For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.