Science fiction isn't a genre often associated with indie film. Can you imagine "Star Wars" or "Independence Day" made with a minuscule budget and no-name actors?
But against all odds, newbie director Mike Cahill and buzzed-about actress Brit Marling pull off the feat of making a game-changing sci-fi love story for the indie set with "Another Earth."
The film, written by Cahill and Marling, concerns Rhoda Williams, a beautiful, smart young woman on track for a bright future after getting accepted into MIT's astrophysics program. Things take a nosedive for Rhoda when she accidentally crashes her car into another, leaving famed composer John Burroughs (William Mapother) without a wife and child.
Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison harboring major guilt for her deadly actions. In a freak occurrence, she happens upon John's house and strikes up a friendship with the stranger who remains clueless about her past.
So where does the sci-fi element step in, you're wondering? Rhoda’s tragic accident occurs on the eve of the discovery of a duplicate Earth looming over our planet like a giant moon. Scientists label the new planet Earth2. (Clever.) Upon reentering society, Rhoda signs herself up for a contest that awards the winner a flight to Earth2 and the opportunity to live in an alternate reality.
If this all sounds like a head trip, it is. But despite the "out there" premise that there’s a world where another version of yourself exists, "Another Earth" is a very intimate film. Cahill and Marling's deft script uses this high concept to fashion an old-school character study laced with metaphysical undertones that don’t overwhelm what is essentially a simple and affecting story.
Mapother is great in the role of the grieving husband, but this is really Marling's coming out party. The fair-haired beauty was this year's major Sundance breakout, and the buzz is warranted. In her first major on-screen role, Marling is a natural. That she also co-wrote this effort -- and co-wrote and starred in another Sundance hit this year, "Sound of My Voice" -- just goes to show you that this is a name you'll be hearing a lot more of in the coming months.
The same can be said of Cahill. It takes guts to come out of the gate with such an oddball and ambitious debut. The risk pays off.