Mike Cahill’s feature debut is one of the most remarkable low-budget American films of 2011. Made with less than 200,000 dollars, it was premiered at the Sundance Festival, where it received the Alfred P. Sloan Prize (given to movies related to science) and was acquired by Fox Searchlight (‘The Tree of Life’, ‘The Descendants’) for distribution.
The movie is based on the premise that another Earth, identical to ours, appears on the sky, without any physical consequences on our planet. The focus, though, is on the character of a young woman, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, also co-writer of the movie), a brilliant student who accidentally kills a mother and a son, leaving the father in a coma, when driving drunk. After four years in prison, she’s send back home trying to cope with the guilt and rebuild her life.
The fantasy element, which the authors never really try to make plausible, sets the mood of the story and, more important, a sense of possibility. A space agency is planning to send a ship to this so-called Earth 2, and there is the chance that one civilian will travel in it by winning an essay contest. Of course, Rhoda wants to participate and go to the unknown planet; but before she must make peace with the man whose family dead in the accident, John Borroughs (William Mapother), a musician now recovered from the coma.
Cahill’s style is contemplative and melancholic, sometimes too much. In many moments, the movie borders over-sentimentality, but the core of the film, the unlikely relation between Rhoda and John, is genuine. They build up a rare, original relationship.
Interesting as it is, ‘Another Earth’ is not without faults. Some side stories and voice-overs are pretentious, and the fantastic elements are sometimes unconvincing, especially towards the end of the movie; but it is certainly a promising debut.