Sunday, September 11, 2011
A sort of low-budget, earthbound Contact, Mike Cahill's veraciously titled directorial debut Another Earth is about a driven, scientifically minded young woman named Rhoda (Brit Marling), who enters a contest to win a trip to a newly discovered planet. It's a depressing story at times; as a teen, Rhoda wiped out a man's family in a car accident, and she spends the rest of the movie trying to atone and getting to know the man she made a widower, John (William Mapother, in the kind of plummy lead role he should land more often). Cahill and Marling (the director and his twentysomething star wrote the screenplay together) want us to think: there has to be something "out there" that's better than the sadness of daily life here on Earth. It's exciting to see that idea explored in the realm of pure science. The moment when I knew the filmmakers had me in their grip came halfway through the movie. In a televised broadcast, a scientist discovers that the woman she's communicating with is her exact replica: an alien with the same name, same birthday, same everything. The central question of Another Earth – and it's a mind-blower – is this: If you met yourself, what would you say? This could be the most ferociously smart sci-fi indie since Primer. But, where Shane Caruth's 2004 head-spinner had grimy visuals throughout, Cahill's equally ambitious picture is technically dazzling, especially in the repeated shots of "another Earth" dwarfing our moon. This is easily one of the coolest movies I've seen this year, not least because Cahill and Marling save their most surprising revelation for the final few seconds.