On the night news breaks of the discovery of a duplicate Earth, MIT student Rhoda (Marling) crashes her car, killing a family save music professor John Burroughs (Mapother). On her release from prison four years later, Rhoda bluffs her way into Burroughs
There is a heartening story behind Another Earth. Twenty-seven year-old economics graduate Brit Marling turned down a job at Goldman Sachs to pursue an acting career in LA. Eschewing Disposable-Blonde-No. 2-type roles, she taught herself to write, made a documentary, Boxers And Ballerinas, with Mike Cahill, and the pair have now produced this Sundance winner. The ingredients may be bizarre — Twilight Zone sci-fi, Tom Cruise’s cousin, Kieslowski-esque gloom, metaphysical musing, pulsating electronica — but come together into something thought-provoking, fresh and affecting.
In outline, Another Earth has all the elements of an identikit indie: emotionally shattered people rebuilding each other, a rough-hewn aesthetic, an ambient score by Chicago hipsters Fall On Your Sword, even a cameo by Wes Anderson stalwart Kumar Pallana. So far, so Sundance. But Cahill and Marling’s film has bigger fish to fry.
As cosmic as it is introspective, it’s a film that has its eye on the big picture — the realisation of Earth 2 is neatly if modestly evinced — without ever losing sight of the personal dramas. It may have no truck with the science of a duplicate Earth miraculously appearing — there is no discussion of such downers as gravitational pull — but it is alive to the emotional and philosophical ramifications of the conceit (what would you say to yourself if you met yourself?), often conveyed through snatches of media rather than the stultified characters.
Against such lofty concerns, Cahill delivers a satisfying emotional drama. As Rhoda (Marling) poses as a cleaner to inveigle her way into a life she’s wrecked, we get an ages-old plot core — two people slowly get to know each other, but only one of them is aware of their tragic connection — but the tentative build-up and strong playing of Marling and William Mapother (Tom Cruise’s cousin) as the bereaved music professor make you care. Mapother gives the film sympathy but this is Marling’s show, grief-stricken but unsentimental, registering every emotional shift as she comes to terms with what she has done. It’s a great turn that means when the sci-fi strand and the human drama come together, it’s a belter.
A small, personal indie with a huge cinematic and intellectual appetite. It may be too lo-fi for some tastes but it sparks the brain and moves the heart. It also introduces Marling as a bright new star singular.