It’s a metaphor thing

This tale of a planet Earth is self-im­por­tant but com­pelling enough to just get by, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Reviews -

WHEN MIKE CAHILL first dreamt up the idea for this tonally un­sure, some­what po-faced film, he must have fig­ured that the even­tual arte­fact would look un­like any­thing else in the mul­ti­plex.

An­other Earth does what the ti­tle sug­gests. It be­gins with the de­tec­tion of an­other planet in a rel­a­tively ad­ja­cent sec­tor of the uni­verse. It tran­spires that the ce­les­tial body ap­pears to be an ex­act copy of dear old Earth. For most of the film, the planet, Metaphor, equipped with its own at­ten­dant moon, hangs mor­dantly over the hori­zon.

Cahill was not to know that Lars Von Trier was plan­ning the the­mat­i­cally sim­i­lar, though in­fin­itely more el­e­gant, Me­lan­cho­lia. He may also have been un­aware that, some 40 years ago, Gerry An­der­son con­ceived a film about a Dop­pel­gänger planet called Jour­ney to the Far Side of the Sun, which ac­tu­ally worked harder at ex­plor­ing the dy­nam­ics of its fan­tas­tic the­sis.

Though An­other Earth is pre­sented as sci-fi, most of its en­er­gies are de­voted to work­ing through the un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship be­tween two dam­aged peo­ple. Rhoda (Brit Mar­ling) finds her life un­rav­el­ling when she is in­volved in a drink-fu­elled traf­fic ac­ci­dent. Glanc­ing up to the heav­ens, she slams her car into that of John (Wil­liam Mapother), a stolid, philo­soph­i­cal mu­si­cian. He sur­vives, but his wife and son are killed.

Four years later, Rhoda emerges from prison. Laid low by guilt, she feels un­able to re­sume her old life and takes a job clean­ing at her former high school. Even­tu­ally, Rhoda works up the courage to apol­o­gise to John, but, when he an­swers the door, she pan­ics and pre­tends that she has been sent from a clean­ing agency. Soon, as creep­ing un­ease set­tles over the film, an un­com­fort­able ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship be­gins to ger­mi­nate.

Mean­while, Rhoda has en­tered a con­test to win a place on a manned mis­sion to (you’d surely for­got­ten about this) the twin planet that has been hang­ing about all this while. But the sci­en­tists have a the­ory. Per­haps, when the two bod­ies be­came vis­i­ble to one an­other, their his­to­ries di­verged. Since this hap­pened be­fore the crash, John’s wife and son might still be alive on the Dop­pel­gänger Earth. Got that?

In truth, the two strands of the pic­ture don’t quite mesh to­gether. Mar­ling and Mapother (best known as the sin­is­ter Ethan in Lost) con­spire to de­liver im­pres­sive twin rep­re­sen­ta­tions of dead­ened grief. Some im­pro­vi­sa­tion ap­pears to have taken place and – act­ing out the ro­mance in grey light – the ac­tors es­tab­lish an im­pres­sive, wholly be­liev­able emo­tional con­nec­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion is, per­haps, some­what con­trived. But Rhoda’s sim­mer­ing se­cret adds pal­pa­ble ten­sion to ev­ery scene.

Sadly, the un­com­fort­able, half­baked se­quences in­volv­ing the ex­trater­res­trial phe­nom­e­non ap­pear culled from a very dif­fer­ent, much less as­sured film. When a sci­en­tist makes con­tact and ap­pears to speak to a ver­sion of her­self, we ap­pear to be drift­ing to­wards spec­u­la­tive sur­re­al­ism. The philo­soph­i­cal mus­ings from a wise In­dian (Ku­mar Pal­lana) would sit com­fort­ably in one of Oliver Stone’s stu­pider films. The metaphor­i­cal res­o­nances of the ce­les­tial odd­ity are never lu­cid enough to jus­tify its loom­ing pres­ence.

Still, de­spite all the cin­e­matic res­o­nances men­tioned above, An­other Earth is in­ter­est­ing enough to jus­tify se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion. It may not be as much of a one-off as it thinks it­self. Given the film’s con­cerns, that is, how­ever, a strangely ap­pro­pri­ate state of af­fairs.


Planet twofer: Brit Mar­ling pon­ders the mys­ter­ies of the cos­mos

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