Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Another Earth

The Sundance Film Festival has become the face of independent filmmaking in recent years. In fact, Sundance has introduced films to the movie going public that, otherwise, would go unnoticed. Sundance is responsible for launching the careers of new directors and filmmakers who have gone on to become highly influential within the industry. With that said, this year’s big winner was director Mike Cahill and his first film, Another Earth. This film received both the Alfred P. Sloan Prize and the Special Jury Prize. Another Earth received an enormous amount of praise from festival goers and was picked up for distribution by 20th Century Fox.

Another Earth is a classic example of what makes an independent feature film so radically different from most mainstream Hollywood movies. Its style, technique, mood, camera shots, composition, and music set it apart from the ordinary and routine films that we all have become accustomed to. Another Earth is a rare combination of science fiction and drama. Today it is difficult to find smart science fiction. Where are the movies like Contact, 2001, Close Encounters of a Third Kind, Solaris, and Moon? What you find on the SyFy channel today is nothing more than mindless violence and big action. Just think of the monster of the week, and you get the idea.

Another Earth is what makes real science fiction (not the fake stuff) so intriguing. This film is about big ideas and big themes. It involves a parallel universe and a duplicate earth. What would it mean to each of us if we could talk to our duplicate selves, what could we learn? Could we make better choices or fix our past mistakes? Is it possible for us to have a second chance?

Another Earth starts with the discovery of an imposing, strikingly similar second earth in the night sky. Rhonda Williams (Brit Marling) goes to a party and celebrates her acceptance into MIT and leaves the party intoxicated. While driving she hears about this second earth on the radio and is looking at it in the sky when she crashes head on into John Burroughs’ (William Mapother) car that was sitting at a red light. To Rhonda’s horror she discovers that she has killed John’s pregnant wife and child. In an instant Rhonda’s life is destroyed, and she is sentenced to prison.

Meanwhile, the second earth continues to grow in the sky as scientists try to understand its meaning. Essentially, the two planets don’t share the same physical reality. Scientists suggest that the planet is an exact copy of earth but exists in a parallel universe where events mirror our own. Why the second earth has suddenly appeared no one understands.

Rhonda is released after four years of incarceration. She starts to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Feeling unworthy and wanting to try to fix things both physically and metaphorically, she takes a job as a janitor at a local high school. Rhonda decides to look up John, who was an accomplished musician and professor. John has become the embodiment of a total meltdown. He’s drinking away his very existence.

Intending to tell him she is the one responsible for the accident, she shows up at his door pretending to offer a free cleaning trial. She wants to tell him she is sorry. However she can’t. She notices that his house is a mess and unkempt so instead offers to clean his house, hoping to fix the situation and make his life better. They soon enter into a relationship; however, John still does not know who Rhonda is.

Four years after the second earth was discovered in the sky, scientists suggest that at the point of discovery that life and events on Earth 2 no longer mirror our reality but are now independent. This means that reality and choices on both worlds are no longer the same. There is now the possibility of different outcomes.

Rhonda hears on the news about a contest to be held to determine the voyagers who will have an opportunity to go to the new world. Rhonda sees this as a chance to make things right with her own past mistakes and to offer John the hope that he can see his family on Earth 2.

Although Another Earth is essentially about a parallel universe, it uses ordinary events to explore and examine extraordinary forces. It’s an ingenious and highly creative concept. What if there actually was a parallel universe? Would I make the same mistakes? Can Rhonda change the past and have a second chance?

Amazingly, Another Earth was made for only $200,000. That’s what the industry calls ultra-low budget. But this film looks anything but low budget. It’s a well crafted and highly engaging film. It proves one thing—you don’t need millions of dollars to make a good movie. It obviously would help, but without determination, imagination, talent and a great script, all the money in the world would not help.

Director/writer Mike Cahill is a rising star. He’s proven he has what it takes to be a successful director/writer. You also want to keep an eye on Brit Marling. Considering this was her first film, her performance was nothing short of brilliant. If you are looking for a film that offers an intellectual  mental workout then you don’t need to search in a parallel universe. You have it at your fingertips in this one.

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