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Another Earth (2011)

Directed By: Mike Cahill

Written By: Mike Cahill & Brit Marling

Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother


If you’d told me 20 years ago that the future was going to be mostly billionaires strapping themselves to rockets and then firing themselves closer and closer to orbit while a virus ravages the planet, I’d… well… I’d totally believe you because I’ve read enough dystopian fiction to know this is how stuff turns out.

But all this rich-man-dick-measuring reminded me, on its tenth anniversary, of a subplot of Another Earth, a collaboration between writer-director Mike Cahill and writer-star Brit Marling. So I thought I’d write about it while I’m sat here in the garden drinking gin.

On the night a new planet is discovered in the solar system, promising astrophysics student Rhoda (Marling) and successful composer John (William Mapother) are forever intertwined by a tragic, stupid accident that leaves him a widower and grieving father and her behind bars.

In the four years of Rhoda’s imprisonment, Earth and the new planet approach each other and, on her release, there appears to be (drumroll please) Another Earth hanging in the sky.

Consumed by guilt, Rhoda goes to John to apologise, but – at the last moment – can’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she concocts a story that she’s offering home cleaning services and, in doing so, finds someone as broken as she is.

And all the while, this new Earth is an eerie presence hovering over the story. As the characters look up towards it both they – and the viewer – ask themselves who might be looking back. Do they offer the hope of a second chance? Rhoda hopes so. A billionaire tech dude is privately funding a mission to this parallel world and there are seats on the ship for competition winners.

This is a quiet, slow film with sadness dripping from every frame. Like a whispered confession, it asks if we are the sum of our mistakes or the tragedies that befall us? And some may find it too ponderous. But grief doesn’t move at high speed. It creeps up and settles into the dark places in all of us.

Stylistically, this is Very Indie. All shaky handheld camera, choppy editing, and mix-and-match film stock. The pulsating soundtrack by Fall On Your Sword helps focus the drama and the guerilla location shooting grounds the story (Rhoda’s family home is Cahill’s mother’s house IRL).

A haunting story with two broken-hearted central performances, it’s intrigued me enough to re-arrange my Netflix viewing list to bring Marling’s TV series The OA to the top (made with her other frequent collaborator Zal Batmanglij).

If you fancy it, Another Earth is currently streaming on Disney Plus.

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