Allow me to begin by sharing the fact that I know very little about outer space and that most of the scientific aspects of this film go way over my head. But you know what? That doesn’t matter. Because if you’re like me and enjoy going to movies where you can suspend your disbelief and are willing to cast aside any knowledge of gravitational pull or other physics mumbo-jumbo, than I think you too just might enjoy this summer’s surprise indie hit, Another Earth.
Great, John. What’s it about? In simplest terms, it’s two stories about two people whose lives become permanently intertwined as a result of one horrific accident. This tragic event also happens to occur on the night of the discovery of an identical planet in the solar system – hence the title. Okay, I guess maybe it’s a little more complicated than I alluded to earlier, but suffice to say this sci-fi drama is one of my favorite movies of the year and well-worth catching at your local cineplex.
Neat. Can you tell us more? Sure, I’d be happy to provide a bit more insight into the flick and even share some behind the scenes info as told to me by both lead actress and writer, Brit Marling and Director/Co-writer, Mike Cahill. I was lucky enough to speak with this amiable duo and listen as they talked about the process of creating the movie and graciously answered questions about their thought-provoking film.
Right On! Hey, walk me through the plot real quick. Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), an ambitious young student recently accepted to MIT, is driving home from a party when, on the radio, she hears about a new planet in the sky. Forgetting everything they teach you in Driver’s Ed and possibly feeling the effects of her earlier imbibing, she leans out her window to have a better look at this mysterious planet. Let’s be honest, in real life this is not a great idea – it’s dark, you’ve been drinking, the radio’s probably playing too loud, there’s the possibility of that pesky oncoming traffic. But for the sake of this movie it was brilliant, because she ends up colliding head-on with another car driven by accomplished composer, John Burroughs (William Mapother) sadly killing his pregnant wife and robot-loving son.
Well, forget MIT, because she ends up serving four years in the slammer and then upon her release decides to seek out the now-widowed John. As she begins to travel down this road, we learn that the new planet (which is partly to blame for her current predicament) is in fact a replica of Earth, complete with the same people living on it. If that’s not enough to chew on, a rich Australian bloke then decides to hold an essay contest and reward the winner with a seat on his space shuttle bound for this copycat Earth. Earth 2 as they call it (very original) continues moving closer to Earth and Rhoda considers the idea of visiting it to find out what kind of life her doppel-ganger would have led. Meanwhile, she’s pretending to work for a cleaning service and developing a progressively chummy relationship with dark blue beanie-adoring John as his “hired” weekly housekeeper, without revealing her true identity to him.
The story, while complex, came about after Marling and Cahill became interested in a very simple idea: What would it feel like to meet yourself? “All of our relationships are these external relationships – our friends, our family. And yet we have this relationship with ourselves as this running monologue in our heads and every day when you wake up and look in the mirror – you reflect on what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. And we thought, you know there’s this deep, human yearning for connection and if we could take that person and rip them outside of you and you could objectively observe them – I think that person, on an emotional level, would have the most empathy for you because they’d have shared histories and shared secrets.”
“We were obsessed with that idea emotionally and then we decided to make it so that all 6.3 billion of us could imagine that possibility and threw another Earth up in the sky. Then we developed it and thought, ‘What’s the most interesting story to tell?’ It had to be an outsider’s story because we’re not doing a hundred million dollar movie. We decided to tell the story of Rhoda – someone who needed to meet themselves the most, as someone who was seeking forgiveness. We then wrote it over six months.”
Since seeing this movie on opening weekend, I’ve been obsessed with trying to grasp the whole idea of there being an additional Earth upon which resides another me. I mean, I have so many questions: Like is this other me skinny or is he just as fat as me? Maybe he exercises regularly and doesn’t justify buying 3 Arby’s Beef n Cheddars because it’s cheaper than two. Does this other me also have zero interest in discussing politics, but find joy in talking sports, John Candy movies and all things Mr. T? He too, might drive a salvaged ’87 Toyota Corolla, but he’s probably a real snazzy dresser and an absolute sensation when it comes to the ladies. I bet I could learn a lot from this other me. I really want there to be another Earth so I can find out the answers to these hard-hitting questions.
In the opening minutes of the movie, I quickly recognized who the actor was driving in the car with his family, and I thought to myself, ‘It’s good to see that the creepy guy from “Lost”, aka Tom Cruise’s cousin is able to get work.’ But after watching his performance in Another Earth, I no longer view him as merely a product of Hollywood nepotism – because that guy’s good. Making his performance even more impressive, is the fact that over half of the movie had already been shot before he signed on for the project. Cahill explains, “I’d seen a lot of male leads – phenomenal actors, but they didn’t have the right, special something that was this volatility – this screen presence that William has which is so specific.” Marling adds, “We told him we had no money, I’ve never acted in anything significant before and Mike had never directed a feature film. And he still wanted to do it.”
On a budget that Marling says was, “Smaller than Inception, bigger than Once” and with only 45 shooting days spread out over a year, it’s pretty impressive what they were able to pull off. Having collaborated on many projects since their days at Georgetown University, Marling and Cahill seem to have perfected the art of guerilla filmmaking and perhaps pulled off their biggest feat since their days of sneaking into the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC, when they managed to befriend the employees of the prison used in the scene when Rhoda is released after serving her four years. “Mike convinced them that we were location scouts for a much bigger film. And so we went and met the warden and told him were making a film with Al Pacino that was really big and were just here to scout the prison. He thought it was really cool adding,’ I always thought that if they did the story of my life, that Al would be me’. And we were like, ‘Cool, that’s great. We gotta get outta here.'”
There was no ruse needed when it came to securing the house which would serve as Rhoda’s throughout the film. And oddly enough, most of the locations were quite familiar to Cahill. “The way we approached this was we didn’t want to do a movie where we had to ask for permission, so that’s part of the reason why we went back to my hometown of New Haven where I grew up and shot at my mom’s house. And my mom’s a high school teacher so we shot at her high school. A friend of mine was a police officer and he closed down a four-lane highway for us, for free.”
If you’ve ever finished watching a movie and said to yourself, ‘Dadggumit. I liked it, but I wish they woulda focused a bit more on the air dirt.’, then you, my friend, are in luck. Not only is there an awesome dust scene in this film (easily in my top three movie dust moments of all-time), but it truly is a moving scene and fits nicely in the story line. Cahill, who not only directed, but also served as cinematographer and editor on the film, explains, “That was found in the moment – we come sort of from a background of documentaries and there’s a freedom with which you can approach a fiction film. And while we were there in the attic there was just this moment where we saw these dust particles – and you know up on the ceiling there’s one image which is the first in-focus image from the Hubbell which is the birth of stars. It’s these three pillars and it represents stars being born. And somehow that dust mirrored that – the microcosmic mirrored the macrocosmic – and I saw and thought ‘oh’. I took a pillow and beat it a little bit to get more dust and it was one of those sublime moments that we found.”
Heck, anybody can frame a shot with a couple actors or capture a nice image of a fluffy white cloud amid a bright blue sky, but it takes a downright visionary to think, “Hey, let’s not waste this dust.” As I wrap up my ramblings about Another Earth, those which may only be intelligible, thanks in large part to the lucid thoughts of its likable cowriters, Marling and Cahill, that are peppered throughout the piece, I wanna leave you with five final observations. As trivial as they may be, it’s quite possible that one, or all of them, will either encourage or dissuade you from seeing this movie.
1. Never before have I left a movie with such a strong desire to purchase a telescope.
2. Regardless of how many drab outfits you place her in, including a baggy janitor’s jumpsuit, it is not humanly possible to make Brit Marling appear unattractive.
3. The music throughout this movie is excellent and created by the Brooklyn band, Fall On Your Sword. I might even go so far as to say it’s kinda “edgy”.
4. In terms of attempted suicides on film, the “naked snow angel” approach, depicted around 1/6th of the way into the film, seems like a horrible way to end one’s life. So cold.
5. Kumar, from the movie Bottle Rocket, has a fairly substantial role and came to the project after telling Marling that he wanted to do a drama where he cries. I’m not sure he knew about the whole, “bleach in the eyes and ears” thing though.
In terms of what’s next for these two up-and-comers, Marling has had multiple projects coming her way ever since Another Earth‘s debut at Sundance in January, and is reportedly in talks with Robert Redford for the female lead in his forthcoming political thriller, The Company You Keep. Cahill has a couple scripts he’s written, one about reincarnation and the future which includes a part for Marling, and insists that he and Brit will continue to collaborate on additional projects as both of their careers progress. As much as I enjoyed watching their film, I was equally impressed by the mutual respect and admiration they have for each other’s work and the humility with which they carry themselves. Brit Marling and Mike Cahill are two genuine individuals who seem determined to continue creating talk-worthy work and I will cheer for them and applaud their successes as long as they choose to do so.
That’s it? Nothing more to add! Yes, other me, I know I can ramble, but I warned you. I will just add this, if you have a theater on your Earth, I suggest you go see this film!