I had expected a wrenching emotional affinity with Mike Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH(2011) ever since I saw its trailer back in the day. It was one of those provident moments where a great work of art was presented in front of me and I could respond to its tale of pathos wrapped up with the enigma of terrestrial life on a planet that appears in the sky and eventually becomes the site of human habitation. A tantalising scientific quandary and source of wonder was accommodating humanity’s shot at rehabilitation. I am glad I held on to my affinity to it. A few days ago, I received my chance to watch it and my emotional connection to its humanity is now firmly in place.
Rhoda, the protagonist here, is someone who doesn’t complain or explain her predicament after a 360 degree turn sends this straight A student on an unlikely path. While wondering at this lucid blue ball of mystery in the sky others call Earth 2 through her car’s open hatch, the empty stretch of road at midnight delivers her a curve that alters her destiny. This night-out with friends was in celebration of her admittance to M.I.T.; the naturally gifted science student who perhaps had mapped the road ahead in the field of astrophysics didn’t see it coming. A car wreck and two dead members of a family end up changing the course of her life.
When she expected carnations on a table or a decked up hall to proclaim her success to the world, life offered her an empty cell and an infinite pool of melancholy, guilt and shame to wade in.
After Earth is a sublime study of those times where nothing makes sense, when our life takes a recourse very few could even imagine. After all, no Nostradamus can predict what lies at the next bend. Predestination is an abstract concept.
The axis of our lives is indeed unpredictable. We can drop theories to gauge such situations. Maybe it’s a cosmic principle that this young girl suffered and that we are all governed by. Maybe it’s Fate, after all, making us unwitting participants in our downfall. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time will be the most common point. They are all valid points encompassing empathy and defense mechanisms we use to cope with the loss of normalcy.
This work is genuinely moving because Rhoda has reason and faith in the self to make amends to the surviving member of that unit who’s now an empty shell in place of the musical maestro he was almost all his life. The existential core here leaves a knot in our souls. Utmost kudos are to be extended to the team of director, writer, editor and cinematographer Mike Cahill and actor-writer Brit Marling. William Mapother as John whom Rhoda unites with, to find one shot at forgiveness or catharsis, is an equal to her when it comes to vocation, humanity and the deep well of pain he drowns in each day. Of course, liquor is the poison he turns to as also the unkempt home he lives in. They are both exceptional vessels of the human experience that understands what loss of potential and loved ones mean.
I particularly admire that the affecting screenplay gets involved with Rhoda’s return to life as a civilian and eschews any extraneous material such as a romantic subplot, any further disturbing influences or sour company to complicate her trajectory. These are two decent individuals who can barely share their present states with anyone.
The second earth then looms in the sky like a cosmic particle of invisible strength, acting as an actual entity but more as a metaphor for the complex nuances of life. There may be a double voyage that Rhoda can undertake there to find closure or escape from this mortal coil. But her and John’s lives are like countless others that have no anchor or real support base to fall back on.
Their minds are at war with their fated unraveling and this personal journey opens up the world around them that falls silent in the wake of tragedy, like Rhoda’s parents who really cannot provide her with an anchor or Rhoda herself who takes up a job as a cleaner in a high-school.
Looking at her trajectory, we are crushed by the facts of life. How cruel must be that moment and time where everything-every promise, every future beginning- just ceases.
She becomes a source for the audience’s shared heartbreak owing to the poignancy of this coming to terms for her, the apprehension and stealth she observes when with John, the lack of malice she innately is defined by as an individual at the end of the day.
Her response to a piece of music or the solitary beauty of her narration relaying the first cosmonaut’s journey to space, when with John, are all part of who she is. Her confession to him breaks us.
Her dreams have been relinquished in the wake of intense emotional trauma but her mind is a continuum for what she truly believes in: the infallible power of the universe and the humanity it invokes for her.
We just can’t help but be in remission through time and space. Our lives make us shoulder overwhelming burdens and so we remain hunched over. Or is the reconnaissance of the human soul hidden with little miracles and twists of fate? Compassion, forgiveness and letting go is in our hands. Redemption is what everyone seeks. ANOTHER EARTH belies all that & more.
After all, every science-fiction tale is a deep, empathetic look at the emotional impact that human actions entail.
Arrival, War of the Worlds, E.T. addressed facets of familial disintegration and loss while The Invisible Man tackled gaslighting and female agency within a male-dominated technological social order. Gravity was about coping with alienation within as also in space while 2001: A Space Odyssey or John Was Trying To Contact Aliens exhorted us to look at the cosmic design through an expansive speculative and personal lens, respectively. Especially that cult favourite THE MAN FROM EARTH that probed the very essence of humanity through the eons, dissecting an immortal man’s passage.
Another Earth comes closest to 2001’s Monster’s Ball, in that it is a character study primarily invested in two people united by the knots of life and death. There are moments and cinematographic miracles here which are etched in my mind and will haunt me. I also love how it toggles between hand-held camerawork and steady lenses to punctuate the evolution of two people. But above all, it’s the compassion and human understanding here that allow it to become unforgettable.