From When Worlds Collide to Melancholia, rogue planets have given sci-fi plenty of apocalyptic wow. The appearance of a second Earth in the sky prompts a more intimate cataclysm in Mike Cahill and rising-star Brit Marling’s hypnotic chamber drama of grief and guilt. Speculative rather than spectacular, this festival hit resembles Solaris crossed with Rabbit Hole on planet Sundance.
Marling is Rhoda, an MIT student tossed into jail when, drunk-driving and distracted by Earth 2, she accidentally kills a young family except the dad, John (Lost’s William Mapother). Four years on, freed and seeking atonement, she becomes cleaner then lover to a grief-wrecked John, who doesn’t know her true identity.
That psychological stew becomes distinctly sci-fi flavoured when Earth 2 is revealed to be a mirror of ours. In bigger films, Earth 2 would cause mass eco-panic. Here it’s a cosmic question mark, its meaning lateral not literal, causing oodles of soul-searching and head-scratching rather than tsunamis.
Cahill registers Earth 2’s micro and macro impact by smartly layering character and ideas. The handheld-camera plunge into Rhoda and John’s emotional wreckage is the film’s raw heart, but there’s brain-food too in the hum of media pundits debating Earth 2’s scientific challenges.
Although plausibility issues do linger – Rhoda’s easy insinuation into John’s life takes some swallowing – suspend disbelief and Another Earth is US indie sci-fi in a seductive Euro-arthouse mould, designed to provoke and prod. If Marling enters Hollywood’s orbit – which she surely will – here’s hoping its sensibility stays with her.
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Marling’s breakout film thrums with restrained thought and feeling. Flawed but fully felt, it’s a trip worth taking for those who like sci-fi small-scale but full of soul and ideas.