Brit Marling & Director Mike Cahill on Another Earth's Duality, Science Fiction
The film Another Earth ponders the nuances of human nature with a surgeon’s patience and razor-sharp attention to detail. It’s the grand story of sudden life-changing events, like a devastating car accident or the sudden appearance of a duplicate Earth in the sky, but also the personal timelines of conflicted characters trying to make sense of it all. Director Mike Cahill quietly merges science fiction and romance within a panicked post-modern world on the brink of a major scientific discovery, reminding us that you don't always need a big budget to work wonders. Amidst the collective chaos, a sublime story emerges: ex-con Rhoda (Brit Marling), isolated and pushed to the fringes of society, tries to make amends for a terrible decision she’s made years before, but the process is anything but seamless. The gripping silence inherent to her journey speaks volumes, becoming just as important as any of the film's carefully placed special effects. Through Rhoda’s eyes, all sense of time, space, and identity begin to evolve exponentially, making each of her emotional decisions feel like one of a million combustible human atoms bouncing off each other simultaneously. SanDiego.com was lucky enough to speak with actress Brit Marling and director Mike Cahill about the duality, doppelgangers, and destiny in Another Earth immediately ahead of the film's San Diego theatrical release on August 5th.
What was the creative genesis of Another Earth? Can you describe the collaborative screenwriting process between you and Mike?
Brit Marling (actress of Another Earth): A couple different things influenced it. When an idea comes together it’s not just one seed, but really a lot of things going on at once. We were listening to a lot of Doctor Richard Berendzen, this astrophysicist who has a really beautiful way of talking about the cosmos, describing stories of space in a really entertaining and thrilling way, and that was appealing. We wanted to make a movie that had that type of feeling to it. Also, Mike was making a lot of video art at the time and he made a piece where he interviewed himself. Another Earth was born out of all these things happening at the same time. The idea of a doppelganger and everyone here on Earth also living on this other planet as well, taking that internal monologue that’s always in your head and externalizing it with another version of yourself. The writing process for Mike and I is usually just about entertaining each other. We show up to work and I’ll tell the story for a bit and if he’s entertained and laughing or getting emotional, and then he’ll tell the story for a bit. We just go back and forth trying to keep each other interest and engaged. We do that for a long time and then eventually you crack the story and then you can begin writing it.
How was your approach to character development different as a writer than as an actor?
BM: As a writer, it’s interesting because you’re living for a while in every character’s perspective, you spend time writing as each person, feeling your way through the characters. When you begin acting you divorce yourself from that. The writer can change anything at any moment and so you really have to let go of that freedom, but then you come to it as just an actor where this is your text and you cannot change what’s happening. As an actor it’s about going deeper beneath the words, what’s driving everything, where the feelings and the motivations are coming from, and why you behave the way you do.
Your performance is very much based on facial expressions and the movement of your body, and not so much on words. Could you expand on how you approached your character in terms of this silence?
BM: It’s funny, we didn’t notice at the time this silence, that there are quite a few moments where Rhoda is completely on her own. The thing is when you’re living inside this world and it’s intense and so much is happening and the stakes are so high. I mean, she’s falling in love with a man she’s lying to and everything seems so loud emotionally from within. You are living within the character and hoping the performance translates.
Rhoda, as a character, is always searching for closure that she feels might alleviate the pain, on both a personal and cosmic level. How did this motif of seeking influence your performance?
BM:That’s such an interesting thing to say. Rhoda’s had this catastrophic experience and she can’t understand why it has happened. Her life was on one trajectory, she was young, ambitious, going to MIT, graduating at the top of her class, and it’s all about to happen. The world is at her fingertips and then BAM, it’s all over and she’s never going to MIT, she’s never going to be an astronaut. Everything she thought about who she was is done and I think she’s grappling with how to make sense of that. Is this destiny? Is it written? Is it chaos? Are we all just particles bumping up against each other in the dark and it’s totally random and sometimes beautiful and sometimes painful? She’s struggling to understand these questions and live a meaningful life...or some type of life in the wake of this terrible accident.
It’s almost like having expectations about life is a futile thing. She gives in to the search at the end. Most films are about closure, but Another Earth is about the search.
BM: Yeah, that’s really beautifully said. I think she does reach in the end a feeling that you cannot know, that we are never going to unravel the mystery of the universe and who we are or what we are doing here. Attempting to unravel it is worth something in and of itself, that asking the questions is worth something. You have to revel in the question mark.
Rhoda exists on the fringes of society even though she is at the center of basically every scene. She’s both an isolated figure and a key representation of the human experience when Earth II appears. How important was this theme of duality to your performance and the film as a whole?
BM: She is on the fringes of everything and I think that’s what connects her to this idea of this other planet. When your life is pretty comfortable and going according to plan and you don’t have too much to ask for, you’re not seeking as much. Rhoda is going through an extreme experience and she’s such an outcast that I think it gives her the reason to write the essay to go to Earth II. She’s unsatisfied, unsettled and looking for a way to understand so I think that’s what connects her to that other planet, this way to possibly answer many of the things that trouble her.
Another Earth is all about coming face-to-face with the physical manifestations/consequences of our decisions. Why were these themes so essential to you as a writer and an actor?
BM: That’s why the creation of a duplicate Earth in the sky, rather than a parallel reality story a la Sliding Doors, was more interesting to us. It was more about if you are willing to look at yourself or are you going to look away from your reflection. It is making that choice a visually literal device. Can you confront yourself and all that you have done, but on some level let yourself off the hook? That’s why the ending is quite hopeful to me. We’re all very tough on ourselves and very critical. I feel like if anything, this idea that you might catch your reflection in the bathroom mirror as you’re leaving the theater and say to yourself, “You’re okay, kid.” There’s something nice about that.
[interview is continued on page 2]