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Review: ‘Another Earth’

Indie Sci-Fi Emphasizes the Human

Above: Brit Marling stars in the indie sci-fi film "Another Earth."


Aired 8/4/11

KPBS film critic Beth Accomand reviews the new indie sci-fi film "Another Earth."


The indie film "Another Earth" (opening August 5 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) reminds us that the best science fiction doesn't emphasize the science but rather the humanity in a story. Listen to my radio feature.

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.

ADVERTISEMENT: 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 minimalist just to ask that one question.

NEWS REPORT: Our earth is replicated elsewhere. There's another you out there. Now you begin to wonder, has the other me made the same mistakes I've made?

MIKE CAHILL: 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, visualizes those feelings. That's where the science fiction ends. There's a duplicate earth but here's a drama set within that context.

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.

RHODA: Let me tell you a story. It's about a girl. She does something unforgivable.

Brit Marling plays Rhoda and co-wrote the screenplay with Cahill.

BRIT MARLING: That grief, that suffering she is going through is overwhelming. And 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 things before they're coming. 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 simple visual tricks, 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. 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 framework better be really solid.

Brit Marling and William Mapother star in "Another Earth."

Fox Searchlight

Above: Brit Marling and William Mapother star in "Another Earth."

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 up on screen and connect. They will reach forward and then when we unite that's where the emotional transference goes down. We don't want to leave it too ambiguous because most of the answers about what happens in the story, it's in there but I like it being open to interpretation and thought provoking.

The audience exiting the screening I saw was all a buzz in conversation, and 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.

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.

"Another Earth" is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity, and some drug use. Please check back tomorrow for a video feature of the interviews.

Companion viewing: "Man WHo Fell to Earth," "Moon," "Primer," "The Double Life of Veronique"

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | August 5, 2011 at 9 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

Beth, in your future review of RISE OF THE PLANET of the APES, PLEASE don't write something like ". . . for real science fiction, go see ANOTHER EARTH" instead.

The fact is that with few excepttions, there really hasn't been thought-provoking sci-fi much anymore--at least among US movies--not since Ridley Scott and James Cameron, redfined the genre into high-tech adrenaline.

The Apes trailer already looks better than the Burton "re-imagining."

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 5, 2011 at 9:42 a.m. ― 5 years, 7 months ago

RISE is far better than Burton's APES. As for ANOTHER EARTH, it is not classic sci-fi but a film that uses science fiction for a premise that allows it to explore some very human themes.

What are your favorite sci-fi films?

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Avatar for user 'The0ne'

The0ne | August 5, 2011 at 7:25 p.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago

I came back from Another Earth and didn't enjoy it as much. The mirror Earth just poses too many issues for my thinking to truly accept any decisions to be made. Add to that the movie really doesn't address any of the issues in depth except for a comment here and there and it becomes too much and too heavy for my thoughts.

Possible Spoilers

There are two scenarios in regards to each persons situation that the film assumes, with the later not til the very end.

1. Earth2 is the same for everyone. This means the course of humanity is exactly the same as early in the film suggests.

2. Earth2 might be different for some people.

The first is highly improbable but interesting nonetheless. Just probability alone makes it hard to accept that this could happen. And if accept or assume that it does he decision to go to Earth2 is pointless. Add to that her counterpart has the same morale issues to consider and would end up in the exact same situation, guilt. This would not be an escape because you literally end up in the same situation with the same locations and people. She might as well just move to another city or kill herself to rid her of her quilt.

The second is a lot more interesting. If events can be different for some people then that also means not everyone or any event is the case, hence her decision to let the man take her place and fly to Earth2. Her hope is that he might have a chance to see his wife and kids exactly as they were, which defeats the purpose of the suppose theory and worst there would be two husbands with 1 wife and 1 kid. So then how is that going to work with dual identities? It's complicated and deep for me to think about this situation.

Secondly if events remain the same as the film "really" suggests then the man would really be in a bad situation, really bad, reliving the whole thing again but now literally with himself.

Lastly the film ends with a heartbroken Rhoda in Earth1 with both being shocked, more so the 2nd because she had expected her mirror to fly to her Earth2. Thus the film ends literally with both views and doesn't really explain further. Well, to be honest it really doesn't explain both theories in depth but rather gingerly uses them to help with the difficulties of both Rhoda and the man. It's meant as a escape although lacking in details.

Off topic, Beth have you see Tucker and Dale vs Evil? I'm watching and loving this movie :) It's a fun take at horror movies. I hope you have a chance to watch it.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | August 6, 2011 at 2:41 a.m. ― 5 years, 6 months ago


The film suggests that the two earths are identical until the moment each notices the other, at that point the synchronicity is broken. The fact that it's broken is proven by the fact that Rhoda from Earth 2 comes to visit Rhoda on Earth 1 because Rhoda 1 turned down her opportunity to make the trip. And I don't think Rhoda is heartbroken at all. She accomplished what she had intended, which was to try and heal John. As for John, he goes to Earth 2 only hoping that he can find some sort of resolution to his tragedy. If his family were alive I think that would give him comfort, even if he could not just pick up the life he had because there would be a John 2. If that were the case he might return to Rhoda but knowing that his family were alive somewhere else. It's really a film about overcoming grief and what people will do to help themselves and others. On that level I really thought it was beautiful.

As for Tucker, I have heard good things but have not yet seen it. It's on my list.

Thanks for taking the time to leave such thoughtful comments. Sorry you felt disappointed.

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