| Another Earth


Mike Cahill

USA, 2010


Review by Katherine Follett

Posted on 17 May 2011

Source Projected DVD

Categories The 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston

“Magical Realism” refers to realistic narratives that include impossible elements. Many science fiction and fantasy fans resent the term’s inherent snobbery—it assumes that these genres, which are also defined by impossible elements, are necessarily inferior or unserious. But “Magical Realism” can serve as a shorthand to distinguish between a work that is primarily about an alternate world and one that is primarily about the people in it. It might also be the perfect description of Another Earth, the beautiful, haunting, surprising, and strange debut feature from co-writers Mike Cahill (also the director) and Brit Marling (also the lead actor).

During the Q&A, Cahill revealed that he and Marling came up with the “magical” element of the film first. Astronomers discover a second Earth on a nearly identical orbit as our own planet; its path brings it ever closer over as the events of the film unfold. Yet the focus of the film is not primarily on the strange new world, but on the vivid lives of two characters on this one. Rhoda is a young woman interested in astronomy. John is the composer whose life she irrevocably alters—once accidentally, and once more deliberately. Taking the focus away from the other Earth in no way lessens the eerie power of the idea; quite the contrary. Every shot of the slowly enlarging Earth in the night sky (with its moon by its side) startles you anew because of its context of realism and familiarity. It adds both a fantastic beauty and an urgency to the intimate and domestic drama that unfolds between Rhoda and John. And when humans finally make contact with our twin world, the shock of that communication, and what it means for each and every person on Earth, is felt all the more intensely because we so empathize so strongly with the characters whose lives are affected.

At, our reviews tend toward essay and criticism, rather than recommendations for or against. But I can’t help giving this movie a big, grinning thumbs-up. I hope you go see it.1 As such, I don’t want to reveal too much about what happens between John and Rhoda. Their lives collide one night in a tragic accident. Years later, Rhoda finds John again, not revealing their shared past until well into their new and tender relationship. It isn’t a terribly new or complicated story, but it unfolds with patience, affection, and skill. Marling is a hauntingly expressive actor, holding our attention and emotions for many long, dialogue-less scenes. And Cahill uses light, set design, and music to wonderful effect, drawing each element of the film into a unified and moving arc. The plot does begin to feel a bit contrived as John and Rhoda’s lives become more directly involved with the second Earth, but the filmmakers have earned our trust so well that the story moves on despite this flaw. The ending (I hate to call something so satisfying a “twist”) is both surprising and utterly inevitable given what’s come before. The beautiful new orb hanging in the night sky gives a startling freshness to everything that happens in Another Earth. I would hate to spoil that freshness before you see it for yourself.

  1. It was picked up by Fox Searchlight after a strong showing at Sundance.
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