Another Earth (2011)
Welcome to the Overlooked Hotel, where guests are invited to disagree with the conventional wisdom and re-evaluate the underappreciated.
Another Earth had a limited release in 2011 and unfortunately went under the radar for most movie-goers. Apart from winning the 'Alfred P. Sloan Prize' at Sundance the film didn’t receive much recognition and was labeled an amateurish indie with moderate acting. Directed by Mike Cahill and co-written by himself and lead performer Brit Marling, Another Earth is a sci-fi and is certainly marketed as one. It’s also extremely low budget, and for fans of the genre, sci-fi and low budget are like water and oil. However, the lesson to be learned from Another Earth is that a good script can hold up a film with a small budget, but a big budget can’t hold up a film with a bad script.
On the night a duplicate Earth appears in the sky, Rhoda (Marling), a passionate young astronomy student, has her life flipped upside down after she causes a tragic car accident involving an accomplished music composer John (William Mapother), which results in the death of his family. After serving time she confronts John intending to apologize for her actions but ends up pretending to work for a cleaning service. Whilst she upkeeps his house, they form a relationship and while Rhoda’s guilt consumes her she is given a ticket to travel to the mirrored earth. She needs to decide whether herself or her new companion is more deserving of an alternative reality.
“To make a great film you need three things – the script, the script and the script”
– Alfred Hitchcock
Storytelling is the foundation of filmmaking, much like the foundation of a house. Without that concrete slab, the house cracks apart and sinks into the ground, and no amount of pretty paintjobs and fairy lights will make people want to live in it. Solid storytelling is thus essential for a quality film. When time and budget restrictions are put into place, creative and clever screenwriting techniques emerge and are able to hold an audience member's attention better than any bunch of giant fighting robots ever could. Memento (2000), Rocky (1976) and The Blair Witch Project (1999) are prominent examples of exceptional writing and all had a fraction of the budget of Spider-Man 3 (2007).
Another Earth was bound by a $100,000 budget. This constraint became an advantage for the film. Considerable focus must have been put into the script to make it as clean cut as possible as it is evident in the film. Cahill and Marling emphasized the dramatic tension and suspense between the two main characters to take focus away from any kind of issues the audience might have about the physical logic of another Earth in the sky. The plausibility is never questioned because it simply isn’t important. What is important is Rhoda’s decision making and the effect the truth is going to have on her and John.
Cahill’s new film I Origins is due to hit cinemas in the next few weeks but until then I’d suggest seeking out Another Earth on DVD and see what you think. It might not be for everyone but I’m sure you’ll appreciate the value of a story well told.