If Philip K Dick, Michael Stipe and Danny Boyle were to somehow merge their creative genius then they would probably give form to something like Mike Cahill. Cahill's Indie Sci-fi 'Another Earth' is his debut as a filmmaker of fiction and carries the accolade of having some success at this year's Sundance festival. Its poignant subtext of questioning 'how could I have done things differently' echos the sociological dilemma that haunts western society.
Do not be put off by the term indie sci-fi. 'Another Earth' is another film in a growing list that use the rigid markers of sub genres like Science Fiction and Horror as a framework to guide emotions and allow the audience to process an often uncomfortable subject. For example 'Signs' is a film about faith, set during an alien invasion; 'The Awakening' is an exploration of survivors guilt portrayed through the mechanism of a ghost hunter.
So how does 'Another Earth' contribute to this list? Well, a planet has appeared in the sky, and the human race has discovered that this blue green globe that has dwarfed the moon and looks suspiciously like Earth is indeed another Earth. All this I can tell you without giving anything away. The story is a tale of guilt, confession and catharsis. Rhoda (Brit Marling) causes a fatal car accident while drunk behind the wheel. At 17, just accepted into MIT, she destroys her life and that of John Burroughs (William Mapother) whose family are killed in the crash. 4 years and a prison sentence later Rhoda continues to beat herself up, alienating herself from the community. Compelled to confess to John she seeks him out with the intention of confessing her sins. All the time the film is peppered with excerpts from philosophical debates about the existence of an identical earth and the identical people who live on it. The film proposes a series of existential questions: 'If you could see yourself from the outside what would you see? Would you approve? Would you have done things differently?' The film even dips into quantum mechanics and suggests that Earth 2 is an alternative Earth, an Earth where we turned right instead of left, where, indeed, things have turned out differently.
These existential and scientific ideas are presented in a very digestible form and the themes of choice, reflection and consequence are explored again and again. Cahill's roots in documentary filmmaking are clear; there's a graininess to the film, and the way Cahill has cut his picture gives Another Earth a roughness which grounds it in reality, yet the cinematography is amazing and beautiful. The second Earth sits convincingly in the sky; the dialogue is economical with much of the emotion conveyed through montages of the everyday life of the characters shot with stark realism accompanied by a fantastic soundscape by multimedia composers 'Fall On Your Sword'.
There is not much at fault with this film. The characters are three-dimensional and, despite its fantastic premise, the story is convincing. I guess the only thing that bugs me about this picture is the lack of religious perspective on the existence of another earth. But this is not a three hour epic, ultimately the philosophical debate is more of a narrative device than a major theme. Adding religion to the mix could dilute the film's core themes. I also found myself asking: If science fiction takes a back seat in this film, why use it at all? Instead of the opportunity to travel to another planet, Rhoda could emigrate to a foreign country. But the last scene in the film, which I'm not going to give away, ties it all together in a way that only science fiction can. Science fiction, when used as a framework, allows a writer and an audience to consider uncomfortable themes comfortably.