Another Earth: Another Melancholia

At the start of 2011 weather forecasters missed a trick. Rather than talking about sun, snow, wind and more rain than you can shake a soggy stick at, they really should have been talking about the imminent approach of a metaphorically significant twin planet, that and also savage bouts of depression that cast the metaphor in a new and dramatically subversive light.

What with Another Earth and Melancholia it’s been a case of ‘you wait for one cosmologically redemptive event to happen and two come at once’, you know, one of those moments. Not that I’m complaining. It’s typical Twilight Zone fodder. Stick a new planet next to our planet and reap the all too human consequences. And I love the Twilight Zone – in principal.

In this case the planet that sidles up to our own is our own. One night people start to spot it and to all intents and purposes it looks to be a carbon copy of Earth. Aspiring Physicist Rhoda Williams (played by co-writer Brit Marling) hears this on the radio whilst driving home drunk from a party and her resulting interest leads to something terrible. In prison for four years she emerges into a world in which ‘Earth 2’ has become somewhat of a normality, but she also emerges just as Earth first makes contact with its twin counterpart. Throughout this Rhoda slowly inveigles herself into the life of victim John Burroughs (William Mapother) in an attempt to make amends for her mistake.

What emerges is an oddly affecting – albeit clunky and ragged – human drama that just happens to feature a sci-fi element. The MacGuffin to end all MacGuffin’s, the planet comes to be a mere plot point as opposed to the main thrust of a film that mostly takes place in houses. Working on a budget of only $200,000 what writer/director Mike Cahill has created is nothing short of astonishing. Calling to mind last year’s Monsters the special effects are done subtly and economically. In fact the special effects get hardly any air time at all.

It’s all about people and in particular the relationship between Rhoda and John. What starts out as quiet and icy affair changes throughout the film into something complex and worrying. But this doesn’t mean that it didn’t sometimes jar with me. There’s a moment between them about halfway through where I think that I almost pulled a muscle I cringed so hard, and not in a Ricky Gervais good way.

Nevertheless Brit Marling gives what will surely be a star-making performance, what with her Hollywood ready smile and obvious talent. William Mapother on the other hand – a somewhat established actor – gives proceedings a decent go looking throughout like Jeremy Renner after an especially hard fight (although whoever Renner is fighting currently is anyone’s guess, who can keep up?)

So if the star of the show isn’t the performances and isn’t Earth then what is it? It’s the ideas, it’s the way the plot neatly ties itself up but above all else it’s the aspiration. It’s not just another dull story of redemption, neither is it a sci-fi face mashing fest. Another Earth is quiet and intelligent and thoughtful. Well at least that’s the impression you get. There may be plot holes large enough for you to drive a planet through and if you think about the ending for a microsecond it becomes so improbable as to almost invalidate its impact, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that it has impact. And with the poor showing of cinema in the last few months that’s something to be treasured.