Written by: Mike Cahill and Brit Marling
Directed by: Mike Cahill
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother
In any great science fiction the science fictiony elements act as merely a backdrop against which a very human, very current drama can take place. Mike Cahill’s Another Earth fits that definition so perfectly, and so effectively, it stands as one of the tighter and more original sci-fi pieces in recent memory. The film begins as Rhoda (Brit Marling) has been accepted into the astrophysics program at MIT, celebrates too hard and decides to drive home anyway. On her way she hears a story on the radio that a new planet has been detected in the vicinity of Earth and as she distractedly peers out her car window to see the planet she smashes into an oncoming vehicle, killing the mother and child inside and putting the father into a coma. 4 years later Rhoda is released from prison, so stricken with grief that instead of continuing her academic career she will allow herself only a job as a janitor at a local high school. As the new planet, Earth 2, looms ever closer Rhoda spends her days scrubbing urinals and one day she catches sight of the man, John (William Mapother), whose life she smashed apart. She visits his home under the guise of working for a cleaning service, he hires her, and she begins to insert herself in his life.
Rhoda is moving without a plan, but what is obvious is that she is punishing herself for the mistake she believes she must pay for with her future. Earth 2 grows in the sky and through snippets of TV and radio news in the background we learn that perhaps Earth 2 is not another planet, but a version of our own that has escaped a parallel universe. Earth 2 holds a mirror up to the Earth, raises questions of choice, destiny, fate, and ultimately results in deeply moral self evaluation. At least, this is true for Rhoda who, throughout the film, is reflected in train windows, mirrors, puddles, glass. As Earth 2 forces the world to consider itself closely, Rhoda is gazing upon herself with absolute fury.
Brit Marling is a brilliant discovery in this film, as her eloquence and thoughtfulness betray a deep brilliance that Rhoda is fighting to suppress. She is punishing herself by denying herself the joy of pursuing her passion and Marling nails that struggle of grief and guilt with shattering accuracy. William Mapother, best known for playing the character Ethan Rom on the TV series Lost, is effective as John not only in his performance but because his screen presence instantly evokes the mistrust associated with Ethan Rom and so John seems, to me at least, capable of truly dark things.
The notion of a planet looming heavy over a human drama will be instantly tied to Lars Von Trier’s deflated sci-fi experiment Melancholia but the truth is that the two have very little in common. Where Von Trier attempted to spell doom and depression through the inevitable erasure of human existence, Cahill spells existential renewal. Von Trier failed to create a human drama worth engaging with, while Cahill offers one that gives no other option. Another Earth is deeply affecting and despite its DIY roots deserves a place in the pantheon of deeply human science fiction.