Note: The Maine International Film Festival screened “Another Earth” as the closing-night movie this year at Colby College’s Given Auditorium in Waterville. For more on MIFF, visit miff.org.
“Another Earth,” written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, directed by Cahill, 92 minutes, rated PG-13.
In “Another Earth,” writer-director Mike Cahill takes the ordinary – the story of a young woman coming to terms with one poor decision – and makes it extraordinary by adding a speculative sci-fi backdrop.
Brit Marling (who co-wrote the film) stars as Rhoda, a high-schooler on the fast-track to MIT in the fall. After a night of celebration, she learns of a duplicate Earth, which appears out of thin air just outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Driving drunk, Rhoda becomes entranced by the tiny blue speck in the sky, causing her car to veer over the yellow line, striking a family’s car and killing the driver’s wife and child.
For her crimes, she spends four years in jail, but the mental prison she builds for herself is far less forgiving than the state’s.
After her release, Rhoda tries to make amends with the driver, John Burroughs (William Mapother), but can’t find the courage to tell him the truth. Instead she forges a bond with him as a stranger, slowly dragging him out of despair. For Rhoda, his companionship does the same.
But Rhoda’s sights are on Earth 2, which she sees as a second chance – an opportunity to escape the mistake that will continue to haunt her. She enters an essay contest with the hopes of going to Earth 2 and leaving her old life behind.
With Earth 2 hanging overhead in nearly every shot (an amazing and fiscally responsible special effect) Cahill re-creates the breathtaking feeling of stargazing, letting your mind wander with a slight fear of the unknown. Wisely, the director chooses to reveal little of Earth 2’s origins. The planet is a metaphor, original yet obvious, and as much as some viewers will clamor for more irrelevant facts about Earth 2, the film works best without all the answers.
“Another Earth” isn’t a sci-fi epic a la “Avatar,” but a personal story with a sci-fi touch. At its core, the film is about two humans attempting to pick up the pieces of their lives – more young adult than Asimov. It lifts the YA genre to new cinematic heights.
Unlike the manufactured angst that Kristen Stewart belts out as Bella in the “Twilight” franchise, Rhoda’s emotions feel natural, raw and intelligible. Her pain doesn’t come from the ridiculous pining for an Abercrombie vampire or werewolf, but from a very human mistake that has altered the course of her existence and that of others.
It’s easy for an actor to scream and pound on a bed to convey an inner struggle, but to refrain and present it with the sincerity that Brit Marling does is a rare gift. In Marling, there’s a star in the making. In “Another Earth,” there’s a new standard for how young adults should be portrayed in cinema.
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