We’ve seen a resurgence in cerebral science fiction of late, or at least films in which the science fiction element is secondary to more prominent themes. Examples would include The Adjustment Bureau, Inception, Moon, Never Let Me Go and Source Code. Another Earth is a supreme example of a film that uses its science fiction premise as merely a starting point for an incredible character-based drama.
Rhoda Williams is a high school student with her sights set on the stars. A high achiever, both socially and educationally, her brilliant mind has been put to use in studying physics and astronomy, and she has her sights firmly set on university. That’s until one night she makes a fatally tragic mistake which results in her being sent to prison. That exact same night, the second planet capable of sustaining human life has been discovered. When Rhoda is released four years later, she feels disconnected from not only her family but the entire human race.
The science fiction element of Another Earth could be seen as purely allegorical. Don’t go into this flick expecting high concept sci-fi, because you’ll be disappointed. It’s a tale of guilt, loss, pain, redemption and rebirth, and a stunning one at that. Co-writer Brit Marling is also the star of the film, and is destined to be the next big thing. Rhoda could have easily drawn animosity or frustration from audiences, but instead Marling’s turn is an utterly emotive performance, brilliantly subtle without ever becoming self-indulgent. She’s present throughout pretty much the entire film, and make no mistake – this is her film.
Matthew-Lee Erlbach plays Alex, a man who has also withdrawn from the world, and the only person Rhoda is drawn to (some might say for all the wrong reasons). Together the two of them make for sometimes painful viewing – these are representations of people who feel they have nothing left to live for.
Mike Cahill’s direction is spot on. This is a quiet film with many extended scenes, but proceedings never get boring. There are regular interludes featuring voice overs from radio and television commenting on the phenomenon that comes to be known as Earth 2, and these work as brief reprieves from the intensity of the film.
Some may find Another Earth sluggish or be disappointed that the focus isn’t so much what’s alluded to by the title, but for me this is one of the top films of 2011.Rating: