Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Another Earth directed by Mike Cahill

It was slashing down with rain when I was in Melbourne recently and, having already got a tad damp heading to the NGV, it seemed like a brilliant idea to spend a couple of hours in the cinema - the Nova in Carlton, no less. Another Earth was on the billing, and what little I'd read about this recent release intrigued me.

This was my first time in Nova, and I thought it an enjoyably retro experience - spot on for a wet, Saturday afternoon.  In fact, the young American couple who'd found their seats in the auditorium before us must have felt something similar, because they were busying themselves photographing the fixtures and fittings until we arrived, and then they cheered for no longer being the only patrons.

I thought we'd entered the wrong auditorium and were about to get another film at first,  because it seemed as if we were being shown the Another Earth preview - about the appearance of another planet, very close to Earth - except it was more depressing than I'd expected.  Wasn't sure what we were going to get instead - not Cars 2, I hoped.  Until it transpired that the preview was for Lars von Trier's Melancholia.

Another Earth is the feature film directorial debut of Mike Cahill, who co-wrote it with Brit Marling. She also stars in it, alongside William Mapother.  Great performances by both.  It tells the story of Rhoda Williams who, as a high school student out celebrating with friends, is driving home when she hears a radio report about the appearance in the night sky of another planet, which is, to all extent and purposes, the very image of Earth.  She catches sight of the planet, is mesmerised by it, and crashes head-on into the stationary car of Yale music professor John Burroughs, killing his pregnant wife and young son instantly.

Because she is under the influence of alcohol, Rhoda serves a prison sentence (thereby ending her prospects of becoming an astro-physicist and exploring the nature of the universe!), and the main body of the film picks up with her release 4 years later, telling a story of grief, loss of innocence, and the painful search for redemption.  If that sounds too depressing in itself, be assured that there is an energy and ambience about the film, and the portrayal of all the characters, that makes it compelling and ultimately life-affirming.

While the presence of the additional Earth adds some interesting elements to the story, this is not Sci-fi, and the storyline does not over-concern itself with too much pseudo-scientific justification of this - or the logical ramifications of it.  Another Earth affects towards Arthouse-on-a-small-budget, down to the scratchiness and muted colours of the film (although this might equally have reflected the age of Nova's projector) and the hand-held camera work, which I found irritating for a few minutes, although on the whole these combined characteristics add rather than detract from the experience.  On those occasions when I could suspend disbelief no longer and wanted to raise concerns about some of the logic flaws (particularly with the outcome), I found it useful to remind myself that the parallel Earth idea is, more than anything else, an effective device to explore a few interesting existential questions - a bloody big metaphor floating in the sky.  Namely, how we each choose to live our life, the ways in which we respond to regret, self-forgiveness, the notion of the life we would like to have... 

Well worth watching.  Even more so on a wet afternoon.

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