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Interview: Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

Britt Marling stars as Rhoda in "Another Earth," a film she also co-wrote.
Fox Searchlight
Britt Marling stars as Rhoda in "Another Earth," a film she also co-wrote.

'Another Earth' Filmmakers Speak with Cinema Junkie

Director-writer Mike Cahill and actress-writer Brit Marling came by KPBS to talk to me about their indie sci-fi romantic thriller, "Another Earth" (opening August 5 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas).

Watch the video interview I did last month when Cahill and Marling came to San Diego. Their plane arrived too late to allow them to make their scheduled appearance for a post film Q&A, but all the people leaving that screening were buzzing with questions about the film, which uses science fiction to set the plot in motion. The story begins as a duplicate earth is discovered. A young woman named Rhoda (Brit Marling) notices the planet in the sky and recklessly crashes into another car killing a woman and her child. The man, a composer named John Burroughs (William Mapother) survives with more emotional scars than physical ones. Rhoda decides to try and reach out to him to help him, all the while Earth 2 looms above them holding out both hope and uncertainty.

Here's what the filmmakers had to say about their quietly ambitious project. You can also check out my review.

KPBS Cinema Junkie: Interview with Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

CLIP 3...2...1. Booster ignition and lift off... This will be a trip like no other. We will give those who travel with us a unique and life changing experience. Travel to Earth 2. Now booking.

MIKE CAHILL: The idea for "Another Earth" came from a very emotional question which is what would you feel if you could confront another version of yourself? And I wanted the science fiction to be very minimal just to ask that one question.

CLIP: In the grand history of the cosmos, more that 13,000 million years old, our earth is replicated elsewhere. There's another you out there.

MIKE CAHILL: And we were interested in the idea of a doppelganger or connected soul and then we took that idea and we extrapolated it so that everyone on the planet could experience that. All 6.3 billion of us are living a parallel life up in the sky. And that's where the science fiction ends. There's a duplicate earth but there's a drama set within that context.

BRIT MARLING: Sci-fi is cool because it's telling you a human drama, this sort of a thriller love story but it's putting a fresh lens on it and it's forcing choices that you've never seen before. And it's forcing these characters to confront one and other in ways we haven't seen before . And that's the great thing about science fiction.


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

BRITT MAILING: I think as an actor you are always looking to take something on that makes you nervous. Liked if you get a nervous feeing in your stomach as you're reading the material because you're not quite sure you can pull it off. I always felt that about Rhoda she had such an intense experience that has thrust her so outside of the realm of just a normal human life, and that grief, that suffering she is going through is overwhelming. And then making sure that she's not a character that's passive and a victim in that grief. 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.

RHODA: She goes to apologize but she loses her nerve. She lies to him. She thinks she might be able to make his life a little bit better. It was really just a way to survive what I've done.

MIKE CAHILL: I think deep down as humans we have this primal yearning to connect and we have this strange situation as humans of having a singular perspective on the world we're like alone, you're born alone, and no matter how many people are around you, no matter how close your family and friends are, you are ultimately viewing the world from a singular point of view, alone. So the notion of another version of you it's not just cool, like oh don't you think it would be cool, it's actually like primal, it's this subconscious desire I think that we have.

CLIP This is Dr. Joan Talis of the United States, Planet Earth. Do you read me? Is anyone out there?

MIKE CAHILL: Budget is a constraint of course we can't have the ocean suck up and fly into the sky there are certain things you cannot do with a limited budget but you have to be very clever in the way that you tell your story especially as Brit was saying it's very ambitious, the ideas are big. I don't know 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 with 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. That's what you are relying on.

CLIP You know that story about the Russian cosmonaut?

BRIT MARLING: Our friend Josh told us that story and later on I guess forgot he told us the story. And when he watched it he was like that's funny my dad used to tell me that story when I was a kid.

RHODA: So the cosmonaut is in there and he has this portal window and he's looking out of it and he sees the curvature of the earth for the first time. He's the first man to ever look at the planet he's from. And he's lost in that moment and all of a sudden there's this strange ticking...

BRIT MARLING: We took a lot of poetic license I think the real story is different and we wanted to try and twist it a bit to make it about if there's this aggravating sound and you can switch it around and make it music, which was so right for John and change the thing that life is so much about point of view and if you can change your point of view, then the thing that is your greatest source of annoyance for you can become an inspiration instead.

RHODA: A few days go by with this sound and he knows that this small sound will break him. He will lose his mind. What's he gonna do? He's up in space. Alone. In a space closet. He's got 25 days left to go with this sound. So Cosmonaut decides the only way to save his sanity is to fall in love with this sound. So he closes his eyes and he goes into his imagination and then he opens them. He doesn't hear ticking any more. He hears music. And he spends the remainder of his time sailing through space in total bliss and peace.

MIKE CAHILL: As filmmakers, as creators of a piece of art, it's a process where there's a commune between the makers and the audience, and I like to think about it like a bridge, and there's this river, and we're trying to build this bridge and we lay brick by brick by brick as the filmmakers and we may go more than halfway like 90% of the way across and then 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 for me as a film audience member I love that experience where I can be engaged and I can reach forward and connect with the story so that's very important to me we don't want to leave it too ambiguous cause most of the answers of what happens in the story with the big reveals and twists, it's in there but I like it being open to interpretation and thought provoking those are the kinds of films I love.

JOHN: To the coming true of your most improbable dream, congratulations.

BRITT: You know what's so funny about it it's really funny that when you make something you have no idea what it is until other people tell you and I remember the first screening at Sundance and afterwards there was this particular woman whose reaction moved me so much. It was like I knew we were making something that would provoke a sense of wonder and we were feeling that about the cosmos and we were doing all this research in space but I don't think we ever know that you could have made something that would viscerally impact people you know make them sort of speechless and take their breath away for a moment and that to me was still shocking.

JOHN: Please on't go. You don't know what's out there.

RHODA: That's why I would go.