Sunday, July 24, 2011

Movie review! Another Earth

It's rare, these days, to find movies that cause you to think about them upon waking up the morning after.  And I suppose that reaction was fitting considering the amount of self-reflection Another Earth jams into its tidy 90 minute package.  This 2011 Sundance darling bites off a considerable amount and economically chews it's material, providing a beautifully shot, small indie character piece set during an extraordinary time, and it somehow does justice to both the large and smaller picture. 

Hey look, it's Another Earth. And some birds.
I had been looking forward to this movie for a while, so I was honestly dismayed by the mediocre reviews.  I figured if it was a Sundance award winner, and featured a plot I found compelling, it was a no-brainer. But due to the mixed critical response, I went in with pretty low expectations, assuming it was an ambitious attempt that fell under the weight of its own complexity. 

But after watching the movie, the only thing I considered was how it didn't resonate with the aforementioned negative critics.  Newcomer Brit Marling plays Rhoda Williams, an exceptionally bright seventeen year old who drunkenly steers her car into oncoming traffic shortly before she's expected to leave for MIT.  The only survivor, other than Rhoda, is John, an accomplished musician who is left to pick up the pieces after suddenly losing his loving wife and young boy.  On the same night as the accident, scientists discover a nearby planet that has the exact same dimensions and climate as Earth.  In fact, we soon learn it's identical to our planet in every single way, straight down to it's inhabitants.  It's a mirror world.  Four years after the accident, Rhoda is released from prison and, while trying to make sense of her life, takes a job as a high school janitor while covertly attempting to apologize to John, who unknowingly hires her as a cleaning woman.  Also, a private company is offering the opportunity to become the first human to travel to this Earth 2, only asking for an essay explaining why they are the best candidate. Naturally, Rhoda has a compelling story.

While the movie has a complex sci-fi element, it only exists as background for a simple, yet intriguing character piece about two people left grasping for anything, as their lives continue to spiral downward.  And this beautifully shot movie handles all its elements with subtlety and expertly navigates its vast world despite it's limited budget.  We never see rockets, stars, or anything that suggests a space mission, but we do get a sense of the wonderment of it all.  The filmmakers use background radio conversations and televisions shows to provide us a glimpse into the public view of the "other Earth."  We never get that enormous shot of people crowding city streets to view the new mirror planet, but we definitely get a sense that it is the only thing people are talking about through the limited scope. We see their excitement, fear, and uncertainty.  And while we constantly feel the weight of this life changing discovery, we are never once beaten over the head with it.  In fact, in the times the film does concentrate on it, we are only fed small details that are both satisfying and leave us wanting more. 

It's this delicate balance, along with some pretty direction from Mike Cahill (seeing the constant image of the "other Earth" placed next to our moon is always breathtaking, and a constant reminder that we are experiencing a frighteningly amazing time period), that makes this film truly interesting and special.  Because despite this world changing event, an event that changes life as we know it, we see the entire spectacle through the eyes of two struggling people, two people looking for an escape from their reality, and the parallels between the scientific world and the emotional one intertwine wonderfully for a simple, tidy, indie character piece that actually presents itself as more, despite the small scope.

Not to mention, it has a wonderfully satisfying and incredibly memorable ending.  

The only reason that I can see for the mixed response is that, perhaps, people were expecting a strict sci-fi movie, or got caught up in the lack of "realism" of how the sci-fi plot line was handled.  After all, this is a movie about two heartbroken people and the sci-fi element of the mirror world is only a vehicle to push their story, not the other way around.  So if you're looking for a realistic film about the discovery of a mirror world, you're going to be sorely disappointed. 

But whatever, go see it. 

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