Though we don't like to admit it, our lives tend to be dictated by decisions we've made or circumstances beyond our control. These are the things that push us from one path to another. We all know what they are, and with any luck, we look back on most of these turning points without regret.
In all likelihood, Mike Cahill and Brit Marling are looking at their decision to write, direct and star in the indie sci-fi drama Another Earth in a positive light. After all, making a movie that has some original ideas and unique concepts is almost impossible these days, never mind how difficult it is for the finished product to find its way into a theater.
But all that is happening with their film, which causes you to reflect on the choices you've made in the same way Marling's character, Rhoda, must confront her own mistakes. And, certainly, the movie has proved a turning point in their lives.
“Yeah, it's about the big crucial moments,” Cahill tells CityBeat. “Where did you decide to go to school? Where did you decide to live? Who did you decide to spend your life with? It's always worth remembering what could have been different.”In the film—which opens Friday, Aug. 5, at Hillcrest Cinemas and AMC La Jolla—Rhoda is a brilliant 17-year-old who's just been admitted to MIT. While driving home from a party, she pokes her head out the window, hoping to glimpse the other Earth that has just been discovered in our solar system, one that appears to be identical to our own.
That's when she drunkenly careens into another car, killing the wife and child of composer John Burroughs (William Mapother, who played creepy Ethan on Lost). After a four-year stint in jail, as our planet is preparing to contact its duplicate, she seeks out Burroughs, and the two begin an unexpected affair, which is jeopardized when Rhoda is offered a chance to visit the other Earth, where she might possibly discover if there's a version of her who hadn't made that terrible mistake.
“We all daydream a bit on the idea of alternate outcomes,” Marling says. “It's in so many films and pop culture, the idea that there could be another version of you that took that job or who didn't let that person go that you loved. The question is, would you recognize that other version of yourself ? Like, if you ran into the version that didn't move or didn't break up with that girl, how would you be different? How would your life have been different? The film meditates on that.”
Another Earth isn't a perfect film, by any means, but it makes the most of its limited budget, has a cool concept, looks great and does make you reflect on your own life, which is far more than most movies are capable of. The sense that characters' lives are impacted by a global event that's unfolding around them, rather than them being at the center of it, works well, because we're treated to what's going on with the other planet— which appears to be a parallel reality crossing paths with our own—only through news reports and the radio.
The focus of the film is personal, and though it succeeds on that level, I found myself wanting to know more about the larger situation. Still, Cahill and Marling have crafted a distinctive story that allows the audience to make its own decisions about the characters.
Another Earth takes liberties with physics, but that's sci-fi. And what it's really about is emotion.
“What I love about Brit's character is the way she reacts to her life is not as a victim,” Cahill says. “She carries the boulder. If you break it down story-structure-wise, she's the protagonist and the film's antagonist is actually her guilt. If we sliced regret off of the palette of emotions that we can have, the idea of a parallel universe might never enter our psyche.”