Another Earth: another draft needed possibly

I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I went in to see Another Earth, directed and co-written by Mike Cahill, but the title and marketing campaign would seem to indicate that it’s straightforward speculative science-fiction: a new planet appears in the sky, and it’s eventually discovered to be an exact replica of the Earth, even down to the individuals living on it. Contact is made, and an expedition planned, with places reserved for ordinary citizens as well as scientists. I guess I thought the film was going to be something like an indie version of Contact – in fact it turns out that, other than some carefully composited background shots showing the new Earth looming large in the sky, the expected sci-fi trappings are almost wholly absent, and that the film is actually a lo-fi and personal piece about one young woman’s need to make amends for a tragedy she inadvertently caused as a teenager. The bulk of the running time is made of scenes showing lead character Rhoda (played by co-screenwriter Brit Marling) struggling to reassemble her life in banal domestic and work settings before she makes the decision to make contact with the bereaved and traumatised academic John Burroughs (William Mapother). The film has a somewhat uneven and unfinished quality to it: the use of raw digital video is absolutely fine for the scenes showing Rhoda’s attempts to reach out to the man whose life she has derailed, but it becomes jarring when obvious devices like flashbacks, slow motion and surging music are deployed to heighten the emotional effect, and you wish the film-makers had had the nerve to just let the drama play out unmolested. Similarly, the high-concept stuff with the new planet becomes seriously distracting once one realises its been included as a crushingly obvious metaphor for second chances, and one starts wishing the script had gone through another couple of revisions to downplay or even remove this angle. One suspects it would have worked just fine simply as a possibility that the characters discuss. The film has a little of the flavour of Tarkovsky’s highminded and meditative Solaris, and it presents some interesting ideas in a thoughtful manner, but sometimes it seems a bit too reminiscent of a film student’s project made to an unmovable deadline.

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