by James Killough
I worked with an actor once, a Royal Shakespeare Company stalwart, who had a great story about being stalked. He awoke one morning to find a screenplay in the post. It wasn’t from his agent, there was no postage on it, not even a return address. Then he started reading.
The story was about an actor who lived in a house identical to his, on the same street, who did the same things daily. And he was being watched by a girl across the way, who had fallen in love with him, and who had written the screenplay in hand.
“So what do you think I did?” he asked me over a pint in a pub.
“Had an affair with her, of course,” I replied.
“For four years,” he sighed. “We’re just breaking up.”
Not many people would consider having an entire relationship with your stalker to be the obvious thing to do, provided the stalker is attractive, of course, as was the case in hand. But entertainment folk are always the mummers in society who like to do things differently, or else it doesn’t interest us.
I’ve already blogged about the one time I sort of lost it and went over to a mentally ill ex’s house with a borrowed dog so it could play with his. That was definitely a low point, but in fairness to me I was on the third day of a bender and had induced a minor psychotic break.
Other than that one time, I’ve never actually made good on my threats of stalking, because they aren’t really threats at all; from my point of view, they are intended to be endearing demonstrations of affection. But from the point of view of most Americans, with their bountiful boundaries and prairies of parameters in the same square-like shapes of most of our states, having someone as intense as me tell you that he’s going to stand outside your apartment and bellow for you like Stanley Kowalski until you give in, and your girlfriend/boyfriend throws you out, is rather like finding a potential house-sitter for your place on Craigslist who sits through the interview manically flicking a Zippo and joking about pyromania. By the time I can explain that I was raised in Italy, where such over-the-top proclamations are a sincere form of flattery, I’m out on my ass.
Conversely, if you do the same to someone from a culture where they speak Romance languages, he will likely smile, throw you a rose, lower the rope from his balcony, and tip the Mariachi band with which you serenaded him well.The stakes on stalking are raised when you are pursuing someone who could grievously harm you if certain truths came to light, and that’s the central plot device in Another Earth. This is a strange film, one I ended up enjoying and admiring, but not for the reasons the filmmakers might have intended; my gut instinct is it all comes together because of a happy accident. We’ll have to see what director Mike Cahill and actress Brit Marling, who wrote the script together, do next to determine just how much credit to give to their talents as filmmakers for this piece, and how much of it was the variables of filmmaking aligning themselves to create a worthy outcome.
The amateurish look and feel to the production is clearly intentional: Another Earth is shot on lo-res digital, and the image is down-graded even further in post-production for some scenes. Mike Cahill was also cinematographer and editor, which was a risky move, and one which causes either the image or the performances to wobble precariously in some instances. In the rush of low-budget film production, when you are on week four of a six- or seven-day schedule, working fourteen hours a day, and you have to focus the performances as well as the camera, and set up the lighting, something is bound to suffer. There are the occasional lighting continuity problems that are jarring, and when the dialogue lurches from minimal to around half a page, it starts to feel like an improv acting-school skit.
The exciting part about the film is the editing and the script, as well as Ms. Marling’s performance. She seems like the upper-middle-class, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy-type girl who switched her major during her junior year at Brown from art history to acting, and it’s paid off handsomely, against all odds. Marling is very pleasing to look at, the camera is drawn to her obsessively and, while she’s not quite Meryl Streep, yet, she manifestly has what it takes to go the distance in a big way. The male lead, William Mapother, probably would have delivered a more believable performance had the director’s focus not be directed towards the camera.
The story might be described as an English adaptation of the French version of an emo, existential Russian sci-fi film. A reckless, brilliant, uncommonly beautiful young woman has her world turned upside down when the car she is driving collides with another, killing a man’s pregnant wife and their five-year-old son. Not only is she drunk, she is distracted by the news that a life-sustaining planet has suddenly entered our solar system. It turns out to be an identical, parallel world to ours, soon called Earth 2. In a reverse angle of Rabbit Hole, which starred Nicole Kidman as the mother of a child killed in a car accident caused by a teen, we follow the point of view of Ms. Marling’s character as she struggles with her remorse and grief, which leads her to stalk the man she victimized with her actions. In a bittersweet twist, her tragic story also wins her passage on a space shuttle voyage to our twin world.
Despite my reservations about the lo-tech production, I was impressed with how resourceful Mr. Cahill was with the limitations of the budget. If I’m not mistaken, he has deftly side-stepped any use of CGI with a simple technique, available in most Adobe products, from Photoshop to After Effects, which is to layer in an image of Earth as seen from outer space on top of the master shot with maybe a 75% opacity and a little rotoscoping. That’s fucking brilliant. Despite knowing how the effect was most likely achieved, I absolutely believed that this was a probable near-future.
Indeed, simplicity wins the day here. That and thoughtful storytelling. The end ties it all together in a way that, whatever misgivings you might have had about the production, leaves you pondering the greater mysteries of our existence and its possibilities, and that is intellectually admirable, especially for a movie playing on two screens at the Hollywood Arclight alongside Harry Potter.
We will see more from both Mr. Cahill and Ms. Marling. They have no doubt already been sucked into the orbit of the Hollywood System, and that’s where they ought to be. Having seen the business credits on Another Earth, and having had experience with those same people, they are well guided so far. I hope they will navigate the whole mess wisely.