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Another Earth

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Another Earth
Fox Searchlight
On the verge of her bright new life set to begin in MIT's astrophysics program, Rhoda Williams is distracted for just a few minutes while driving -- irrevocably changing the direction of her life. After her release from prison, she takes a job as a custodian at her former high school and shuns almost anyone who approaches her until she initiates contact -- under false pretenses -- with the man, a music professor, whose life she also altered. And so, in Brit Marling and Mike Cahill’s remarkable independent film Another Earth, the two characters, drawn together through loneliness as well as the pull of a second Earth hovering in the clear sky of their stark New England town, begin an unlikely relationship.

As Rhoda begins to reawaken to the world, her natural intelligence and scientific curiosity reemerge, and she becomes interested in a commercial expedition to the other planet, which lost synchronization with first Earth when it was discovered in the atmosphere. The two lovers speculate on the lives, unaltered by the recent tragedy, lived on the other planet and grow closer. However, Rhoda's overwhelming desire for forgiveness soon jeopardizes the trajectory of her new life and impels her to make her greatest sacrifice in exchange for redemption.

In their screenplay, co-writers Mike Cahill and Brit Marling have layered heart-breaking human drama with the dark, moody side of science fiction. In genre category, the film defies comparison except for a few exceptions: 1972's Solaris and the more recent Sunshine, directed by Danny Boyle. However, Cahill's careful direction and Marling's break-out performance give the film an accessibility lacking in the former two, although both could be and often are considered masterpieces with their own ground-breaking merits.

As Rhoda, Marling is fascinating to watch. Her best moments are still, quiet scenes. For instance, in the scene in which she attempts to numb her pain with cold, she silently portrays her motivation and intent without overly emoting or mugging. Her performance is vulnerable yet powerful, conveyed mostly through her eyes.

There's a repetition to her actions that is slow but comforting, such as the careful, deliberate motions of tapping a knife on a table or inscribing letters in an old man's hand. The quiet portrayal also makes the chemistry between Rhoda and the professor, played by William Mapother, more detailed and real. There are no sudden or unexplained moves here.
The photography of the film is also quietly brilliant. The change of seasons from winter to spring is subtle yet palpable. In addition, the uncomplicated handling of the second earth (no flashy effects) sets the proper mood. The other planet is both symbol and catalyst, setting events in motion as well as providing closure. It's a magnet pulling the narrative forward.

Not a fan of hand-held shots in general, the ones here are completely necessary. It's as if the audience, through the camera as it follows Rhoda relentlessly as she tries to shed her identity, is itself in orbit around her. It comes as a bit of a joyful shock, then, to learn there may be life on other planets.

Another Earth (2011)

Starring: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Kumar Pallana, Jordan Baker, Robin Lord Taylor
Directed by: Mike Cahill
Produced by: Hunter Gray, Nicholas Shumaker, Brit Marling
Running Time: 1 hr. 30 min.
Release Date: July 20th, 2011 (limited)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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