Space: a conundrum of perpetual musing, raging debate and with unfathomable parameters. Its magnitude is so inexplicably vast that the mind throbs in its futile attempts to rationalise the ‘otherness’ that envelopes our known world. We know so little about space, but what if space could provide an illuminating and unrealised insight into our own lives?

This is (kind of) the question posed in Mike Cahill’s debut feature, Another Earth. The far from work-shy director also commands the responsibilities of editor, cinematographer, co-producer and co-writer; the latter of which he shares with the film’s leading lady, Brit Marling.

The story centres on the life Rhoda (Marling) – an outgoing, carefree student whose intelligence is matched only by her naivety and negligence. After being accepted into M.I.T (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology…obviously) she parties through the night and during her intoxicated drive home she becomes enthralled by the blue allure of a newly discovered planet in the sky, entitled Earth 2, which is ostensibly a mirror of our own planet: same oceans, landmarks and even inhabitants.

Her mesmerised distraction causes her to crash into the stationary vehicle of composer John Burroughs (William Mapother), fatally injuring his wife and child whilst rendering him comatose. The remainder of the narrative recommences after the completion of her prison sentence, four years later, and charts her failing attempts to truly reconcile with John after destroying his life and the blossoming of suppressed intimacy in their relationship as their destinies seem to gravitate towards each other.

Another Earth is billed as a Sci-Fi Drama, far removed from the big-budget spectacles of the Star Wars, Terminator and Matrix franchises, instead opting to orbit in the same galaxy as Moon, Sunshine and, perhaps the aspirational pinnacle of this thought provoking sub-genre, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. It is films like these where sci-fi’s potential for gratuity can afford to take a back seat to mediate and channel the more profound themes of the film towards imminent gratification.

Science-Fiction is synonymous for its metaphorical prevalence and how it envisages other worlds, alternate futures and the oddities of the universe to comment on the issues of the present in our ‘real’ world of understanding. In this case, Another Earth appears to be commentating on the significance of human nature, redemption and sentience, with oscillating levels of success.

Recurrent usage of low-angle shots frame the ubiquitous presence of Earth 2 as it looms over Rhoda on her ethereal excursions around town, providing a celestial backdrop for the human drama at the film’s core to unfurl.

The hyper-stylised colour effects in the sky are pretty much the sole feature of the archetypal sci-fi aesthetic that we’re familiar with and functions to highlight the paradox of spatial proxemics between drama and the extraordinary: the infinite margins of outer space are deemed vibrant yet too distant to be felt, whereas the sometimes drab interiors of the ‘normal’ domestic environments retain a real depth of organic intimacy in the midst of confinement.

Initially I found the idea of a doppelganger planet really riveting, and it is a pretty original concept, but as the narrative transpired the film’s visionary scope becomes overwhelmed by its own ambition and subsequently the execution suffers slightly. It evokes themes of reflexivity, infinite possibilities with limited certainties, and assesses whether our emotive capacity as humans can supersede our apparent diminutive insignificance regarding the universe around us. This I am fine with, but the thought that there “could” be a better, guilt-free and more fulfilled version of myself on a neighbouring planet, challenging me by exposing my flaws, is a bit convoluted and frustrating.

The film lacks a bit of refinement in certain moments and the camera-work is sometimes overtly experimental and abrasive given the poignancy of the scene. Some may perceive this to be a bit sloppy – detracting from its intentions – but overall I found that it instils a certain charm and verisimilitude to its own ideologies and the relationship between the two main characters: awkward yet tangible.

The score of the film is excellent and appears as two entirely separate compositions for each of the film’s primary genre categories: conventional instrumentation such as the piano and cello harmonise in sequences depicting the two protagonists as their relationship evolves, whilst brittle electronic tones seem to reverberate indefinitely in the presence of the not-too-distant Earth 2. These minimal-dub echoes almost appear to allude to the ripples of a distorted ultrasound scan: the signal reflecting back off Earth 2 and returning with a replica ‘truth’ that contests how we perceive ourselves, perhaps.

Cahill’s debut has enough innovation and vision to justify the hype it has so far received. In many ways Another Earth reminded me of other independent films that have toyed with the daunting potential and perils of the infinite as man subjectively comprehends it, such as Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Comparatively though, Cahill’s film just, and only just, buckles under the cosmic weight of its own presupposed expectations.

Thought provoking, hypnotising and oddly cathartic, Another Earth is certainly one of the more accessible art-house products making the rounds at the moment and it convincingly eclipses its noisy, animated and pointy-toothed contemporaries who continue to battle for box office supremacy.

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema’s oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.