PURGATORY OR HEAVEN? Another Earth

 

 

 

The remarkable  – to some, polarizing – film from director
Mike Cahill and starring striking newcomer Brit Marling marries emotion to
science.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI

 

Another Earth starts and leaves its viewers with
one haunting question: If there were a
mirror Earth, what would it mean?
Could lost loved ones be
there? Could you wipe away the stains of your crimes and sins? Would you like
your mirror-self? And what sacrifice would you be willing to make to be on that
other version of Earth?

 

Director/writer Mike
Cahill and star/writer/co-producer Brit Marling probed these questions
in their film, in which Marling plays a girl who leads a charmed life –
including having just been accepted into MIT. But then she strikes a sedan and
kills the family in it (all but one member). After being imprisoned for four
years, feeling worthless and working menial jobs, she seeks out the
once-comatose widower of the deceased family, a classical composer played by William Mapother. While she grows
close to the widower without him knowing who she is, she enters and wins an
essay contest where the prize is a trip to Another Earth.

To tell you more would be cruel. But to let Cahill – an editor on 2006’s Everyone
Stares: The Police Inside Out
and 2005’s Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man – do it is a joy. First, though, view the official trailer for the film, remarkably
moving in its own right, not the least of which is due to the background music:
“That Home,” by the Cinematic Orchestra, featuring vocals by Canadian
singer-songwriter Patrick Watson. (The music heard throughout the film itself,
including that by Fall On Your Sword as well as Natalia Paruz, aka “The Saw
Lady,” is equally fine.)

 

 

 

 

***

 

BLURT:  How does a guy with
such a deep résumé of music documentaries (Sting, Leonard Cohen) start thinking
about Another Earth?
MIKE CAHILL: When I was still studying at Georgetown,
I was making a lot of shorts – fictional films starring Brit, who was like four
years younger than me. So we had this collaborative background in fiction, kids
telling stories. When I graduated, I started working for National Geographic
and started on real authentic stories, like the music docs. But I always wanted Brit and I to go back to our
roots. Documentaries give you a confidence in regard to walking
into a scene. You so often have to capture the unpredictable. Add an extra
amount of control and your meter for authenticity goes up – that’s your
barometer. So I approached Another Earth as if it were a documentary, taking a story that is
science fiction but grounding it in reality.

 

The film definitely
has that feel. What visual twist did you wish to lend Another Earth to
make it adaptable to fiction?

I always thought it was be interesting if the camera from Dogme 95, the
stripped-down, bare, naturalistic thing, caught that other Earth in the sky. District
9
in its intent,
more modest in its budget. If it felt real in its look and its
technique, we could make it feel real. There are cues and syntax that an
audience understands. Magic realism, if you will; heavy-handed, even.

You took the words out of my mouth. Talk
about the emotionalism of second chances and how you married that with science.

We as humans have a primal sort of fear of being alone, alone in the universe.
That’s why we reach out. We don’t want
to be the only ones here. That’s just a microcosm. Humans have
a singular perspective. No matter how people are around us, there’s intense
loneliness. That emotion – that’s captured in The Double Life of Veronique,
the cultural notion of doppelgangers – a soul mate, is part of the
subconscious. We made a twist on that by saying that there is another one of each and every one of all of
us, 3 billion of us. Think about that complication,
externalizing that interior process. That emotion bled into the science and the
fiction of it.

Who came up with the idea that such
emotion and such questions should be motivated by a crime?

We came up with the large concept – that other Earth – first, then worked
backward. Billions of stories. What
can we tell? Narcissism. Falling in love with yourself.
Self-loathing. We came up with the notion of, who [would] most want to meet
themselves? One with a hard time forgiving themself. Perhaps the other you will absolve you, will free you from the guilt. So we worked backward and made a redemption
story.

Is the other Earth an analogy for some
brand of purgatory or heaven?

For sure, there is that notion, an undercurrent. One takes their sources from
everywhere. There was a definitely this feeling of Judgment Day and coming face
to face with yourself and how you will react when your life is looked at
objectively. There’s definitely an element in there – there’s even a passage
from the Bible: “For now we see through a mirror darkly, but soon we will see
face to face.”

     It’s about a way
of evading the loneliness of life.

 

 

Another Earth opened
with a limited U.S.
run starting on July 22. Check your local listings for showings.

 

 

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