Director: Mike Cahill
Rhoda: Brit Marling
John: William Mapother
Purdeep: Kumar Pallana
Let's think about titles, for a second. I tell you there's a movie called Fight Club. What will you think it's about? Probably a group of guys that fight (each other, or random people, whomever). I tell you there's a movie called Drag Me to Hell, what do you think it's about? The Natural. Batman Begins. Jurassic Park. The Count of Monte Cristo. The Smurfs.
When we hear a title, we actively, almost reflexively, interpret the title. Why? Because we know titles hold meaning. Thus titles are a way to capture attention. To flirt.
What if Batman Begins had been titled Batman? Ostensibly, the difference is minor. We still know the movie is about Batman. But titles make use of a psychological phenomenon called "priming". Priming is when: "exposure to a stimulus influences response to a later stimulus" (Wikipedia). The word Begins primes people for an origin story. Without the word, people are free to make their own associations as to what the movie might be about. In other words, they will prime themselves. This is problematic because peoples' own plot expectations for Batman may not be that of an origin story and they'll be disappointed.
Upon its release, why did the populace hate Fight Club? Because the title primed people for a action movie--Fight Club is not an action movie. Because the trailer promoted Fight Club as an action movie--and Fight Club is not an action movie. Imagine believing you're going in to see a film about an underground fighting society only to get, well, Tyler Durden. That'd be like renaming The Godfather to The Wedding and the trailer only showing scenes from the first 15 minutes.
Most people wrote Fight Club off as a testosterone rampage. Most critics saw it as a garbage can someone had picked up and dumped, the dialogue and actions being all the refuse that came out of the can.
But a handful of viewers LISTENED to and CONTEMPLATED what the film was saying about manhood, about the state of life in modern society, about The Self. And slowly word got out: Fight Club is deep. It's not a stupid fighting movie. It's cerebral. It's philosophical. It's a narrative on nihilism, on the annihilation of nihilism. Fight Club was a call to arms, to awakening, to seizing control of your individuality. And now it's considered not just one of the best films of the 90's, but an all-time great. Same with Blade Runner. (While Vanilla Sky hasn't accumulated the same accolades, it's gained more praise and fans over-time).
I had originally called this inquiry, "Another Earth and the passive viewer." But then you would have thought, "Why's he spending so much time on Fight Club?" So I just retitled it "'Another Earth' and 'Fight Club' and passive viewing".
See, films like Blade Runner, Vanilla Sky, and Fight Club are demanding because they don't provide the viewer with an explanation. They're giving you answers, and you don't know what the questions are. This is true of what most people consider to be "art". It's the elusive quality of "art". And this type of art (whether a painting, a film, a novel, a violin composition) requires its participants to interact with it. Imagine going on a date and your date doesn't say ANYTHING. You speak and speak and speak and speak and speak, because, otherwise, there'd be silence. And your date sometimes laughs at your jokes. Sometimes nods. Sometimes smiles. Then the check comes, you pay, and your date gets up and walks out. That's how most people treat art. They let it act on them, then they leave. In other words: the reason movies like Blade Runner, Vanilla Sky, and Fight Club are ill-received when they first appear is because most people are 1. poorly primed, and 2. terribly passive.
Complaints about Another Earth fall into three generalities:
"I kept waiting for them to go to the second Earth."
and "I don't get it."
Complaint 1 has to do entirely with priming. Complaints 2 and 3 with passivity.
Another Earth is providing answers to questions about regret, forgiveness, how your relationship with yourself affects your relationship with others, and how your relationship with others affects your relationship with yourself. It has a sci-fi premise, but the "other Earth" is, like the fight clubs in Fight Club, a means to philosophy and an embodiment of metaphor.
Technically, we don't see "Earth 2". So Complaint 1 people go the entire movie WAITING for the film to go to "Earth 2". Sorry. I hated Hero the first time I watched it because I thought it would be a ton of ridiculous martial arts action, Jet Li versus an entire army. To my disbelief, it was a serious drama interspersed with poetic sword fighting sequences. My friend and I left the theater complaining, unsatisfied. I re-watched Hero years later. No longer incorrectly primed: I loved it. I'm not saying this is true of every movie. Some movies we will never like. Despite many attempts to appreciate it, I hate Forrest Gump. But if you've seen Another Earth and were disappointed that the plot wasn't what you expected, I recommend seeing it again.
Complaints 2 and 3 sort of go hand-in-hand. If you don't get what's going on in Another Earth you will feel the plot plods. This is the opposite of what's going on in The Debt. With its often short, often intense scenes, The Debt leaves enough time for visceral reaction but barely room to CONSIDER. Fight Club is funny because when the movie opens, the plot is pretty straightforward so the viewer can watch in a contently passive state, and the scenes are of a longish duration, but as the metaphors and themes build, as the film demands more and more activity from the viewer, the scenes increase their pace and begin to boil. In this way, Fight Club is like the act of boiling water. The Debt is like cooking over an open bon fire. And Another Earth is like baking.
Imagine putting brownies in the oven for half an hour. Then just standing there for half an hour. That's boring, right? Well, that's what Another Earth will feel like if you watch passively. What can you do instead of staring at the oven? You can read a book. You can call a friend. You can watch TV. You can think about the brownies, how many you're going to eat, how many you're going to give away, how this batch may compare to the last batch, you can do pushups (if that entertains you). Basically, you have half an hour to really do whatever. But instead of being at home, baking, with all these available options, imagine you're on a date. You won't just sit there for the duration of dinner, you won't read a book, or do pushups. Especially if you like the person. If you like the person, you won't just passively laugh and smile and simply REACT to what your date does. If you like the person, you will interact. You'll ask questions, you'll share stories, you'll make jokes.
I repeat: watch Another Earth passively and you will feel like you are watching bread leaven. I declare: watch it actively and you will feel like you are on one of the best dates of your life.
How do you watch "actively":
You think. In the longer scenes where Rhoda is cleaning John's house, you think about what this means for her; what he doesn't know; if you would do the same thing; if you have hurt anyone and tried to make up for it without them knowing you were making up for it and how you felt about what you were doing. You think about why these characters are they way they are. When Rhoda's brother says to her, late in the movie, "Write me back this time," you think about what that means and when you realize what it means you re-evaluate all the scenes you have watched where Rhoda and her brother interact. Does this sound like a lot of work? It can be. Just like baking a cake can be a lot of work. But isn't eating a fucking delicious cake worthwhile?
This goes for "art" in any realm. Do you wonder why someone can love classical music? It's because they're actively listening. Do you wonder why someone can love Jackson Pollock's "No. 5"? It's because they're actively viewing. Do you wonder why someone can love T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"? It's because they're actively reading.
The two basic modes of active participation are interpreting and self-reflection.
You interpret the relationships in the film by first identifying the characters, their actions, and the film's themes. How do all of these things fit? Do the themes elucidate the actions? Do the actions explain the characters? Sometimes you have to link a theme to a character and that explains an action. Or an action + a character = a theme. Of what importance is the janitor to Another Earth? Why is he in the movie? What does he do for Rhoda? What does he symbolize?
Self-reflection is how we then connect to a piece (self-reflection via a comparison of yourself to anything else, whether it be a movie or a person, is an act of empathy). Do I agree with the themes? Would I have chosen the same actions? Do I think the same way? Would I blow up all the credit card companies the way Tyler does in Fight Club? No. But do I want the freedom to live my life free of corporations and businesses that see me as nothing more than a cash-cow to fatten up and slaughter again and again and again in a cycle more vicious than anything Dante ever envisioned in the Inferno? Yes. My methods may be different, but the goal is the same: individuality, freedom.
Another Earth, if watched right, will make you ask yourself: if I met Another Me, what would I say to myself? What advice would I give myself? Would I like myself?
If you continue to dig, you'll ask yourself: do I hate myself? Do I ignore things I feel guilty about? Do I forgive myself? How do I treat myself?
Did I Like It:
Yes. I'm in love. The movie will become a cult phenomenon, and, I believe, will eventually receive mainstream applause.
What It's Good For:
-showing big-budget films what's up
-an end that deserves discussion
-the color blue
-people won't get it
-cinema verite bothers some people (I'm fine with it)
-people point out inconsistencies in the directing style (I'm fine with that too)
-not much happens
% Character / % Actor's personality
(I don't really know either actor. But I believe they believed they were their characters).
Fight Club: David Fincher, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter
Vanilla Sky: Cameron Crowe, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz
Blade Runner: Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford
The Debt: John Madde, Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Marton Csokas