Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Earth

ANOTHER EARTH                B-                   
USA  (92 mi)  2011  d:  Mike Cahill 

This is another example of once you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen too much, as nearly the entire story is revealed in a highly condensed two minutes, leaving little suspense left in the theater, as you already know what to expect.   From the outset, however, it should be said that the high definition look leaves something to be desired, as the colors and focus aren’t there, while the jiggling camera movement suggests unsteady hands, all contributing to a grainy, somewhat washed out look of video, making it look very much like it was made on a shoestring budget of $150,000.  However, it does try to make the most with the least, using a minimum of plot development, continually using the power of suggestion to keep the appetites whetted.  Basically it’s a one note effort, as the entire film is about the initial premise, the mysterious arrival of an identical mirror planet Earth right next to our own, called Earth 2, where duplicate versions of ourselves live their lives exactly as we’ve lived our own, where they have the exact same thoughts and lives as we’ve had.  While the story is slow getting started, and is a bit preposterous to buy into, knowing the gravitational effect that the moon has on our planet, so imagine the effects of a planet as large as our own staring back at us in the sky?  Instead, the filmmaker shows multiple shots of people walking down the streets, or on the sidewalks in front of their homes, or next to the ocean, projecting Earth 2 in the sky as our constant companion.  Often people stop and literally stare into the sky to express their newly discovered interest.  Years after this happens, yes, one must repeat, as it takes literally years for the two planets to make contact and realize they are mirror planets, where another version of ourselves lives up there.  One wonders if their lives are any better than our own? 

There is a secondary story that is told simultaneously, one that involves actors instead of planets, where Brit Marling plays 17-year old Rhoda, a high school senior who has just been accepted into the M.I.T astrophysics program on the night the new planet is discovered, staring into the sky while driving, causing a horrific accident, killing a pregnant wife and her children, leaving the husband in a lengthy coma.  Rather than go to college, Rhoda is sent to prison for 4 years, where our earth is just making contact with the new planet by the time she gets out.  Instead of filling a position designed to utilize her attributes, Rhoda wants little social contact, where she is still burying her head in the sand after the accident, and decides to get a job working as the high school janitor.  Again, where there would likely be close to a dozen janitors or more, this school only has two, where she can be seen hiding her face under her hood and wearing a wool cap, where one imagines she may be too attractive to fit the role, but she’s also a co-writer along with the director, so she can do what she wants with the part.  She googles articles about the accident and learns the address of the surviving father, now out of his coma, and decides to confront him, expressing her sympathy for his loss, but instead offers herself as available maid service, showing up weekly to clean his house which is mostly filled with empty liquor bottles.  What she expects to accomplish from this can’t lead to anything good, but that issue is set aside for nearly the entire film, just waiting to appear again at some point.  So there is something of a cringe factor involved at seeing her return to the scene of the crime week after week and lie about her presence, becoming something of a stalker, taking advantage of a man she doesn’t even know. 

Of course, the movie sees it somewhat differently, overlooking all of the previous history, including the jail time, where there are no therapists, no parole officers, no help offered from any source except a single corporation that is offering one lucky winner the chance to fly free to the other planet based on an essay contest.  Rhoda, of course, sends in an essay before she ever meets John (William Mapither), who slowly takes an interest in his new maid, eventually sobering up and realizing she even has a name.  Quite surprised at her intelligence, he immediately falls for her, no surprise there, yet she’s still the stalker woman lying about her reasons for being there, even after they enter into a sexual liaison, where for many in the audience, this has really gone on too far.  The film seems to take pleasure in overlooking the credibility factor, thinking Marling can sell the story, which for the most part she does, as she’s excellent in the role, especially in the way she never comes to terms with this single event in her life, something perhaps many can relate to.  She gets a lot of mileage with her hangdog, sheepish expression, using little dialogue, just solitary images of her with Earth 2 hovering just overhead.  But it all has to come to a head some way, some day.  There’s no way anyone could predict the outcome, as the multitude of possibilities coming in contact with a duplicate of everything that exists on Earth is simply mind boggling, so there’s a lot to play with.  The film offers a series of radio and TV broadcasts announcing the latest developments with this new planet, where one wonders if Rhoda being offered the chance at a new life there would do her any good, as that’s a long way to go to run away from the problems that exist here, suggesting there’s a duality that exists in all our feelings, good and bad, where every impulse generates a little bit of both.  All these questions and more are asked by the film which does a good job keeping the audience guessing.  Perhaps the most positive effect is the upbeat electronic music from the electro-rock band Fall On Your Sword, which brings the end credits down in style.

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