Friday, 20 April 2012
This film was the winner at Sundance 2011 and as usual, Sundance winners don't disappoint. It offers itself as a sci-fi film but it actually delivers an intense and thought-provoking exploration of emotions - in particular guilt, redemption and love. It also posits the philosophical question 'what would it be like to meet myself?'.
For me, the film pivots on two acts of violation perpetrated by Rhoda (Brit Marling) - both predicated on selfishness, but each for different reasons. It's impossible to discuss the film in a realistic way without giving something of the storyline away, so if you'd rather not know, stop reading now.
Rhoda is a beautiful bright blonde with a passion for astronomy and astrophysics. She also likes to party. She has just been offered at place at MIT and we are told that for her, anything is possible. Driving home from the party she listens to the radio where news is breaking of a new earth-like planet appearing in the night sky as blue dot. As Rhoda leans out of the window to locate the phenomenon, she drives at speed into another car. This kills the pregnant woman passenger, her son and leaves the husband, John (William Mapother) in a coma. Rhoda is comparatively unscathed - physically. This is the first violation - one predicated on a selfishness of naivety and an invincibility born of hegemony.
As a minor, her details are with-held and she serves four years in gaol. Meanwhile the earth-like planet gets ever-closer and is discovered to be an exact copy of the original earth. Apparently it has no effect on gravitational fields or the tides - a weakness in the story. Questions begin to be asked about whether 'Earth 2' is an exact copy of the original - or whether they view us as 'Earth 2'.
Rhoda is still riven with guilt for the damage and pain she caused and rather than take up her academic career, she becomes a school janitor. Returning to the scene of the accident on the fourth anniversary, she sees the surviving father drive up and place a toy against the lamp post in a shrine-like way. This ramps up her feelings of guilt even more.
Rhoda lives in a baggy boiler suit and keeps her golden tresses under a wooly hat. She strips her room of all artefacts and instals a mattress on the floor. It is as though her job and lifestyle are a self-imposed penance - an attempt to ameliorate the guilt she is burdened by. Rhoda even strips off to lie naked on the frozen snow but is rescued and treated for hypothermia and frostbite. John has similarly let himself go as he deals with the demons and depression in the aftermath of the accident. He slums around in a dressing gown consuming booze like it's going out of fashion.
Finally Rhoda plucks up courage to visit John to apologise in person. As he opens the door her courage evaporates and she invents a story about her being from a cleaning company which is looking for new customers and offering a free trial clean. John accepts and is so impressed he asks her back and this becomes a regular thing. Each week Rhoda tears up the cheque on the way home. As time goes by, her persistent cleaning inspires John to begin living more 'normally'. As her efforts bring about a cathartic transformation in John, she experiences the same. As time goes by the two of them get closer together and eventually make passionate love at John's home - the second violation. Rhoda's selfish need for redemption has propelled her into the giving of her very self as a form of ultimate redemptive self-sacrifice.
A space travel company is planning a trip 'Earth 2' for those who can afford it and one place is up for grabs to the winner of a 500 word essay competition. After prolonged hesitation, Rhoda enters and forgets about it, feeling she doesn't have a chance. She wins - the fulfilment of her childhood dreams. Not long afterwards, as John hosts a celebratory meal, she finally confesses to John. The impact on him is understandably immense. He demands that she leaves.
She later tries to see him again but he will not open the door. She forces her way in and after an ugly and violent encounter, she leaves her ticket for him. Based on the theory that when an individual first sees 'Earth 2' the parallels stop, and so for Rhoda it was just prior to the accident, it may just be possible for John to meet up with his wife and children again. John makes the trip to 'Earth 2'. Then one day as Rhoda returns home, she encounters herself - presumably because the Rhoda on 'Earth 2' also won the essay competition to visit 'Earth 1'.
So how would it be, if you were to meet a different version of yourself, perhaps from a parallel universe? What would you say? What would you talk about? Would you anticipate being 100% identical in every way - including memories and experiences? Presumably it would be impossible to conduct a conversation with yourself as you would both ask the same question of each other at the same time? What would be the point? Surely it would only be of value if there were some differences?
This is an immensely engaging and worthwhile film that will provoke an affective response from viewers. The story is co-written by Brit Marling and the Director Mike Cahill - impressive. I am sure we will be seeing a lot of more Brit Marling who delivers a strong performance in this. I would recommend this to everyone - but don't expect a sci-fi film! I''l give it 7.5/10.