July 26, 2011

MOVIES: Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)

Here's one of this year's award-winning films from the Sundance Film Festival. It's the story of Rhoda (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the movie with director Mike Cahill), a high school senior who is responsible for a fatal car crash; John (William Mapother), who loses his wife and child in that crash; and the relationship that develops between them.

There's also the story of the discovery of a new planet, which appears to be an exact duplicate of ours and comes to be known as Earth 2. From our brief radio communications with Earth 2, it appears to be not merely a duplicate of the planet itself, but something very close to a duplicate of everything -- the same nations, languages, people -- which leads to much speculation along the lines of "I wonder if the other me has made the same choices/mistakes I did."

That SF story is very much in the background, though, serving mostly as clumsy metaphorical background to Rhoda and John's more personal story. The movie is so uninterested in Earth 2 as a real scientific event that it ignores the basics; Earth 2, for instance, continues to get closer to Earth throughout the movie, and by the end it dwarfs the moon in the night sky. That would have extraordinary gravitational, tidal, and climatological consequences, all of which are utterly ignored.

The movie's an uneven mess. There are certainly memorable scenes and images -- the moment of first contact with Earth 2 is a striking model of how one can make a big impact very simply -- and Marling and Mapother give solid performances. But the movie's not nearly as profound as it thinks it is -- its metaphors are far too clunky and muddled -- and Cahill is far too in love with Marling's face; the movie is filled with long, lingering closeups on her for no particular reason.

Wait for cable/DVD.

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