Another Earth is a new independent science fiction film with its heart set on the artful and minimal potential of the genre. Created with a small budget and an even smaller crew, Another Earth is the latest buzz film to come from the same tree of mind-bending movies like Primer.
This story, written by director Mike Cahill and future star Brit Marling, is about two human beings who are unexpectedly brought together on the night a second Earth is discovered.
I sat down with Brit Marling in a roundtable discussion to talk about the ideas behind the film, the collaborative process that gave birth to Another Earth, and why as an aspiring actress she felt she had to write a movie herself.
Another Earth opened in Chicago on July 29, and is expanding to other cities throughout the summer.
I was wondering if you could talk about the collaborative process and how it lead to your approach with the film.
I was a freshman at Georgetown, which I guess is a school more thought for people who are in international relations and work on Capitol Hill.
[Brit Marling notices that I am staring at an Another Earth poster in the room, a bit thrown-off by the hyperbolic critic quote underneath her image.]
Yeah, I normally turn those around, I can't bare to be in the same room [as them].
I was just reading the quote. It's like, "Whoa."
Epic, right? Anyway ... we met each other there, and they made a short film together there that I starred in. And it was such a beautiful work, unlike anything I had ever seen before. I basically followed them around campus and convinced them to let me work with them and I had been acting since I had been growing up, but it didn't feel like a way to make a living. I'm not sure how it would be if we hadn't met, because we so deeply influence one another. It's like a band coming together. And finding a unique sound together. That is such a rare and lovely occurrence. You can't predict it. But we got very lucky. And we were making movies with high concept, sometimes science fiction, sometimes not. I think what happens now is that our story education is so high, we consume so many stories, the average story intelligence of someone watching a film is really advanced. And as a result, I think science fiction uses high concept to find an interesting way to look at the same human dramas we've been watching for forever, but from a different perspective.
Were you much of a science fiction or speculative fantasy fan before this?
I love 12 Monkeys and the short it was based on. I love The Double Life of Veronique which the three of us watched in college. I love Red, and I love Blue too. All of them. Kieslowski has a way of ... like in Blue, Juliette Binoche has that cup and she's got that sugar cube that she's dropping into it, and it's f*cking up the coffee. And it's such a mundane object and yet he is finally something metaphysical and spiritual even in the way that this woman is soaking up her coffee. All of his work is inspiring to all three of us.
As you've been taking Another Earth on the road with different festivals and Q+A special screenings, do you get a lot of people who try to challenge you on the science of this movie?
They never talk about it to me, but I always hear about other people saying about the science. The movie isn't really asking that to hold up like Solaris. The weird thing about people being like "This isn't real science" is that science is never real, it is always disproving self. Science is everyone's best guess now. And the best guess is always disproven later. Our best guess a while ago was that the earth was the center of the universe, but now it's that about the multi-verse, Brian Green's book, that there are many universes. It really blows my mind when people are like "This is not real science." Yeah it's not real science, but there's an earth behind the sun. Poetic license.
On the Another Earth IMDb page there is already someone discussing how cataclysmic the world would be if there was another Earth. The world would be destroyed, etc. There is a difference between this movie and Solaris.
Getting back into the process of Another Earth, you had that idea of the parallel earth first, and then you said something about how you generated a bunch of stories.
It totally started like a science experiment, and it was like we wanted to create three shorts that made up a feature, and they all had science fiction premises. Because Mike was directing, he would direct them all, and because I was acting, all of the movies would have female protagonists. And one of the ideas was that of a doppelganger. The other two ideas just fell away, and I honestly can't remember what they are anymore. This sort of emerged as a world that we were fascinated by, and I think that's how you know you got something that you want to write about. When everyday you meet and talk about something and keep finding things that intrigue you, because this movie has to intrigue you for a long time because it takes the writing time and the making time and the editing time. And then it's being introduced to the world time, so you'd better really want to discuss this stuff for a while, otherwise you'd be wasting everyone's brain and heart space.
That's where it came from. And when we thought of the idea of the duplicate, we backtracked it to the human story, and thought, "What person would need strength for the greatest emotional release?"
The science of this movie very much works on a metaphorical level. Like you were saying earlier about extreme storytelling. It takes a common dramatic conceit and bumps it to a higher level.
Totally. If you took away the sci-fi part, you would be left with a story, but it's just not a story that I would go and see. [Pauses] And I probably would ... but there's something about it affects you on a visceral, emotional level. There's some sense of wonder that is provoked, there's a newness to it. It makes you think fresh.
There's this constant visual reminder [in the sky] that this movie is different than than just a story of loss. We're looking at it from an allegorical view. All of the best art brings in something completely ...
An original juxtaposition. There are no original thoughts, but you can put two things together and maybe come up with something original. I think just the idea of another Earth being there creates an "end of the world" feeling, that I'm not sure this girl would go and clean this man's house, if things weren't coming to some sort of end. In what reality space would this girl go clean this man's house? It's pushing everything to an emotional extreme that would not happen otherwise.
For this movie, it's like even a year later after the other Earth is known about, and the general idea is like, "Yeah, it's there."
I think that's how we are with global warming. Global warming is happening, and it's insane and terrifying. And yet it keeps approaching, and we're still watching our TV shows and getting in our cars, loading them with groceries. I think there's something there about our civilization's construction that says we're going to keep going, despite all of the warning signs.
[After my fellow interviewer Locke and Brit Marling laugh about his long-winded responses, Brit asks me ...]
Why did you laugh at the quote [on the poster]?
I guess it just caught me off guard. I didn't mean to insult you.
No, no. I didn't find it insulting at all!
It caught me off guard when I saw dramatic words like, "vast" and "human heart." And it's a small movie, but [the poster] is so epic.
It's epic, right?
I was at SXSW last March when this movie had a secret screening and I remember hearing a story about how you were able to film a scene in a prison.
Mike and I wanted to film Rhoda being released from prison, and we couldn't afford a prison obviously, so Mike and I just got in his car until we got close enough to the front entrance of one. Mike was like, "Just go in there." He just rolled the window down in the driver's side of the vehicle and started filming, and I got in Rhoda's costume and there was a yoga mat in the backseat. So I walked up to the security and said I was there to teach yoga, and the way I said it was like, "I do this every Tuesday, what's wrong with you people?" They kind of went to go check and I dropped the yoga mat and walked out, and Mike was filming it. And I got to the car, and he was like, "Go do it again." And the cops were coming down, and they actually did catch us. They busted us, and thought we were making a movie. But we said we were there as location scouts for a very big budget film. And we ended up having tea with the warden at the end, who told us why we should shoot our Al Pacino movie in his prison.
You said you wrote this script partly because you had trouble finding roles as a woman.
I think there are a lot of great roles for women, but they are few and far between. And there are so many great talented actresses of all ages. So when you're in your early 20's and you haven't done a damn thing before, you don't have access to those stories.
Except "Bikini Chainsaw."
Totally. And it's not so overwhelming or frustrating to take on the guy roles in those movies, because the guys are always the ones chasing and driving the action of the movie. What is being asked of the girl is like giving away a piece of yourself. I didn't want to do that. So I thought, "If I'm going to be a girl, and an actor, then I'd better start learning how to write." And I'm still doing that.
And do you want to keep writing?
I do. But I think as an actor it's much more of a challenge to lose yourself in someone else's point of view. And I like the idea of writing because there's a lot of crazy sh*t going on in the world, so there's plenty of fodder for these stories. But as an actor I think it's what gives the creative sense a transcending of your own smallness.