Wednesday 14 December 2011

Somewhere out there: "Another Earth"

Another Earth is a thin slice of speculative indie, shot on tentative, artless digital, that feels more than vaguely redundant in the wake of The Future and Melancholia in particular; had it been shot fifteen years ago by either Hal Hartley or Michael Almereyda, it might have stood a chance, but as it is, you feel its destiny is to dissipate, quietly, into the cinematic ether. Rhoda (Brit Marling, the film's screenwriter) is a bright young woman with a promising academic career ahead of her when she ploughs her car into a wife and child while returning home from a party one night. She emerges from jail four years later, at the exact moment astronomers are confirming the discovery of another planet circling the sun with properties not dissimilar to ours. Unfussed, our heroine takes a cleaning job (trying to wipe away the mess she's made, see?) at the home of the reclusive, depressive musician she widowed on that fateful day (William Mapother). Meanwhile, Earth 2 starts to draw ever closer, suggestive of restarts, second chances - a neat idea, if the only one the film really starts to play with.

The application of string theory to celluloid yields several good, chilly SF sequences, such as the scientist making first contact with another version of herself, who pre-empts all her questions; as with von Trier's Melancholia, this other Earth exerts pull enough to compel the heroine to strip naked and bask in its glow at one point. It's with the human aspect that Another Earth falls short, stuck as the film is with leads who struggle to hold one's attention for ninety minutes. Marling made waves as a notional double-threat at this year's Sundance: blonde and willowy, she appeared to these eyes something like a cross between Sienna Miller and Emma Roberts, with not much more substance about her than one might expect from a hybrid of those two actresses.

Her script, alas, mistakes moping for characterisation. Too often we find Rhoda staring moodily out of the window, while director Mike Cahill (very nearly a name to conjure with) contents himself shooting the dust motes gathering around her, though there are some very Sundance-friendly add-ons, like Wes Anderson favourite Kumar Pallana as a wise janitor, and a scene proposing saw-playing as the surest way of getting into an indie chick's underwear. It drifts into New Age territory as the truth Rhoda has been concealing from her employer/lover finally emerges, and the leads debate which of them is likely to be better healed by accepting a ticket on the first Earth-to-Earth shuttle. Another Earth is trying very hard, and there are interesting and striking shards of ideas in there - but also a lot of empty, so-called meaningful space between them; it misses the boffiny rigour and connecting logic of Shane Carruth's Primer, a previous Sundance sci-fi sensation. The most promising conceit is happened across in the closing ten seconds, after which Marling and Cahill can only fade to black.

Another Earth is playing in selected cinemas.


  1. Ha ha, I like how you described the saw playing scene ;) If you want to relive that music, it's on the composer's website

  2. I shall download, and use it to seduce my own stable of willowy indie chicks in due course. Thanks for reading!