Review: ‘Another Earth’
Indie Sci-Fi Emphasizes the Human
Thursday, August 4, 2011
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.
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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.
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"