Brit Marling starred in and co-wrote two science fiction movies that played at Sundance this year. One, The Sound of My Voice, was smart and subtle and thought-provoking and more than a little brilliant. The other was Another Earth.
In Another Earth we discover a mirror Earth that is slowly approaching us. It seems to be a complete copy of our own world. On the night of the discovery a drunk young physics student smashes her car into a family, killing the wife and son and leaving the father in a coma. Four years later she’s out of prison and he’s out of the coma; she tries to apologize to him for what she did, but loses her nerve at the last minute and pretends to be a maid. The two strike up a relationship, all as the other Earth moves closer and the first mission to it is being prepped.
The science fiction in Another Earth takes a big backseat to everything else, which I don’t mind (although I am baffled that this movie won the Sloan Prize at Sundance. It feels like fantasy, not science - just having another planet as near our Earth as Earth 2 is would cause, at the very least, massive tidal problems). What I do mind is that everything else is a wanky meditation on grief and guilt that feels like it came from a college student. The film is bulging with shots of Marling walking sadly, looking sadly into the sky, sitting sadly and being sad, all while Earth 2 looms in the back. You know, just in case you forgot there was a another Earth in this movie while it spends lots of time focusing on a hugely unlikely scenario (honestly the relationship between the two leads feels more scifi than the scifi premise).
The whole movie comes off like the worst kind of film school work, and there’s no indication that anybody who made the movie understood the issues they were dealing with. Everything is hollow and much of it rings false. Worst of all, the scifi element - the planet is essentially a big, obvious metaphor - feels wildly redundant in the story. And the end of the scifi story, which I won’t spoil here, makes no actual sense. It’s all metaphorical, none of it logical. Don’t get me started on the weird guru Indian janitor character, either.
Brit Marling was simply incredible in Sound of My Voice, and that film’s script is exactly what you want from smart, character and idea-driven scifi. Marling is fine in Another Earth, but she’s often blank, showing little of the charisma that made her so magnetic in SOMV. William Mapother plays the man whose life she destroyed, and he’s very good, even when saddled with lumpy dialogue (there are some clunkers in this movie, especially in the endless voice over scientific ramblings about Earth 2). I like the way he slowly comes out of his depression, and the way that he deals with revelations at the end. It’s a full and living performance.
That Another Earth disappoints is crushing. After Sound of My Voice I had Marling pegged as the next big thing, not only a beautiful and fascinating actress but also a very talented writer. If I had seen Another Earth first I probably would have skipped Sound of My Voice. Ostentatiously serious and ‘thoughful,’ Another Earth might have worked as a short story, but at feature length it’s a film far too caught up with its own cleverness and depth to be a truly compelling movie.