Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another Earth

Date: Monday, August 29, 2011
Time: 5:10 pm
Place: Regal Arbor 8
Company: Derrick
Food: Small cherry ice, roasted almonds with
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Director: Mike Cahill

Quick Impressions:
This movie would have been better as a music video. As interested as I am in genre theory, I rarely have revelations of this kind. I don’t think that I’ve ever once read a novel and lamented, “Why, oh why, isn’t this a cookbook instead?” But I’m just being honest. Another Earth is a very effective music video masquerading as a relatively low budget feature film.

Think about it. When you watch a music video, you think, What a beautiful image! That’s so surreal! There’s another Earth hanging above her in the sky, right next to the moon. Hey listen to the lyrics! They’re not really saying anything about the other earth or why it doesn’t affect the tides. The lyrics are about a Russian cosmonaut choosing to hear an annoying noise as music. But who’s that on the screen? It’s not a Russian cosmonaut. It’s a girl walking through the snow. Now she’s driving a car. Oh, but she’s going kind of fast…

In a music video, the disparate elements aren’t supposed to have a linear relationship. Instead, they all function separately, each tangential to a powerful, central metaphor. When you watch the video, you drink in all these disparate elements at once, and you come away with an appreciation for the beauty they create in concert. Maybe you can’t put your finger on it, but you sense a deeper meaning, one that works on every sense to create an artistic profundity that can’t be reduced to a pithy apothegm.

What a magnificent music video Another Earth could have been! But it’s trying to be a movie.

Sometimes you watch a movie in limited release and think, Why aren’t the multiplexes showing more films like this? The quality is so much better than some of the wider, commercial releases! Mainstream audiences would love this movie if only they could see it!

This is not the case here.

Mainstream audiences would not like this movie. There’s much to love about it. And as a piece of art, it’s quite beautiful. Some of the themes it explores are deeply intriguing. But as a movie, it’s not very good, not very satisfying. And, I personally would also say that as a piece of art, it’s not quite as profound as it thinks it is. (As I said before, it has the heavy-handed self-importance of a music video. I think the director should start making music videos.)

The Good:
I hardly know what to say in praise of Another Earth because its strength lies in the richness of its symbolism, imagery, and metaphor. But if I discuss any of these aspects in depth, I feel like I’ll spoil the movie. From a narrative perspective, so little happens. The real reward of watching the movie is making these interpretive discoveries.

I will say that I think the key to understanding this movie lies in the opening scene, when Rhoda shows first the static image of the surface of Jupiter, and then the dynamic scene of the images in rapid succession. Any static image is never going to be as rewarding or exciting as the possibility offered by change and forward progress.

Another major (really major) point the movie makes centers on two related questions: 1) If another Earth appeared overhead in the sky, how would it change your life? 2) When you are intently focused on a portion of your past that you can’t seem to let go of, what would it take to make you look up, look away? If another Earth appeared in the sky, would it even make a difference?

The acting in the movie is also good, though not so remarkable that I expect to hear any of the performers names mentioned again during awards season. I particularly liked Robin Taylor as Rhoda’s little brother, Jeff, and Kumar Pallana as fellow custodian Purdeep.

The music is also beautiful. It’s really lovely.

More than anything, I think this movie dances around a very intriguing idea about the nature of forgiveness. I wish that the story had been a bit more focused, and that the ending had resolved more. The existence of the other Earth seemed like a contrivance to end the story quickly. What happened with John and Rhoda was predictable (painful, but predictable). What wasn’t predictable was what would happen next. But the movie chose to side-step providing any genuine closure. I do think I understand what the movie was saying. I just think it could have said more.

The Negatives:
The pacing of the movie is absolutely painful. I can’t call it bad pacing because almost nothing happens, so how can no events even have pacing? Everything that’s going to happen in the movie happens in the first five minutes. In that way, it’s a lot like Crime and Punishment. Pretty much the only thing that actually happens is Rhoda’s unintentional crime. For the rest of the movie, we watch her punishment, her self-torturing quest for atonement and meaning. Well, Crime and Punishment is a great novel. I’ve read it many times and never gotten sick of it. But how many Hollywood blockbuster film adaptations of Crime and Punishment have there been? Even successful TV adaptations have changed the story quite a bit.

Normally, you go to a movie expecting a driving narrative. Film lends itself to narrative because the audience has to experience it in a certain order. A movie isn’t a painting that you can approach from a number of different directions at varying times of the day as the whim strikes you. You must watch it from start to finish.

The movie raises so many interesting themes, concepts, problems, metaphors, motifs. You’ll want to gather a bunch of snobby friends and discuss all of these little gems at length. But there’s a catch! First, you have to wait for the movie to be over! And it really, really takes its time.

Of course, on the flip side, poignant images from the movie will come back to you. Questions and curiosities will occur to you long after you’ve seen it. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night three days later with an image of the storms on Jupiter blazoned into your mind’s eye. (In fact, while writing this review and making an off-hand comparison to Crime and Punishment, I’ve noticed that the protagonist’s name, Rhoda, sounds an awful lot like Rodia.)

On the whole, I thought the concept of “another Earth” was great for providing a captivating visual image of some of the ideas that haunt the protagonist. The thing is, since the other Earth is a part of everyone’s reality and not just a figment of her imagination (something that she pretends about, dreams, paints, writes poems about), you’d expect it to function as more than an image. But it doesn’t. I realize that by making a statement like this, I’m going to provoke a response that I don’t “get” the movie, but I have to say it.

Rhoda lives right on the beach. Surely the appearance of another Earth would cause some kind of cataclysmic consequences. It’s been coming closer and closer to our Earth very rapidly, first appearing as a blip in the night sky, and then suddenly visible during the day just four years later. Um? Rhoda went to jail instead of college. Her whole life was turned upside down. But the whole world should have been turned upside down! At the very least, I’d expect floods! And what exactly is going to happen to this other Earth? Why has it stopped moving closer, or is it still moving closer? Is it going to collide with our Earth?

I know the movie isn’t about astronomical reality, but here’s the thing that bugs me. Rhoda is a scientist. She’s obsessed with outer space. She had been accepted to MIT. Had Rhoda been a poet or an artist—but she’s an astronomer!

I know the movie gets around this by taking a very high-handed tone and practically screaming, “Well, I’m trying to be artistic!” I would reply (in this imagined conversation with the movie happening inside my head), “But you’re a MOVIE!”

If the movie were just a series of images with no semblance of a narrative, then perhaps these things would be forgivable. But the movie does attempt to tell a story. It just does it very, very poorly.

Now the story is kind of beautiful. But it’s been done before. The idea of self-torture and atonement for a mistake has been done before and done much better.

At the movie’s heart, you have a story about an adolescent who makes a mistake, a story I identified with very deeply. When you’re set to go to MIT, and suddenly you end up back home in your parents’ attic because of a mistake you made, you feel like you have to start doing janitorial work. I am not being sarcastic at all when I say that I totally understand that.

I just think that the other Earth is a gimmick to get this moving-but-not-very-original little story a place on the big screen. And that’s fine. But I think it’s a cheap trick and wastes the potential of the story that could have been so excellent as either a drama about atonement or a science fiction film with the same themes that it has but a better-paced and more coherent story.

This movie is a piece of something excellent trying to stand on its own.

When considering seeing it, think about this—would you rather see a fragment of a sketch by DaVinci or an entire comic book panel by any currently employed graphic artist?

Basically, with Another Earth you’re getting the Mona Lisa’s left arm. If you’re okay with that, then you’ll be happy you’ve chosen it over movies that offer more closure but less artistry.

I’m aware that other people will disagree, and I’m not trying to detract from the beauty of what it expresses, but I watched the movie and saw wasted potential. Too many summer blockbusters that make it to the multiplexes fall short of greatness because they’re not trying to say anything important. This movie has something to say, but it uses an ineffective medium for conveying its message. Some people will probably call this movie great. I think it has the potential to be great but is underdeveloped, which is kind of sad. And I thought the very last scene was particularly gimmicky, almost to the point of being annoying.

Best Scene Visually:
The opening scene showing the storms on Jupiter is the most important—clearly, they show it to you again when Rhoda hears John’s song. This movie is dripping with symbolism. (It’s like the people who made it forgot to include anything else.) Rhoda’s footprints in the snow are another nice image, and the scene when she strips naked while staring at the other Earth and contemplating her lack of a future also plays well.

Best Scene:
I liked Rhoda’s anecdote about the Russian cosmonaut, although as the person suffering from the headache induced by brain trauma and too much activity in the sunlight, I think I would have knocked her upside the head for drawing out the story so long while actually making that annoying noise. But then again, the movie is kind of like that anecdote. It makes a lovely point—if it works for you—but in the meantime you’ve got to suffer through a protracted narrative and a generally uncomfortable experience.

Best Surprise:
I loved what happened to Purdeep (I mean from the point of view of someone longing for character-driven narrative.) It was infinitely more interesting than what was happening with that stupid other Earth. (And while I do think that was the point, I still wish the movie had either explored the twin Earth concept more realistically or dropped it.)

The Performances:
I liked Brit Marling as Rhoda Williams, but not enough. I thought that the character had such an interesting part and far more screen time than anyone else in the movie. Marling played the role capably, but it was such a big part that someone could have played it very memorably. Marling’s performance isn’t bad, but it’s just kind of average. I feel her pain, but I’m not sure that I care.

William Mapother was very convincing as John Burroughs, a character who has terrible luck. You can’t help but feel sorry for this man. It’s like he’s caught in a Greek tragedy of someone else’s devising.

Robin Taylor was great as Jeff Williams, one of the most intriguing and underdeveloped characters in the movie. Taylor’s is the one performance that makes me curious to learn more about the actor, who clearly has talent.

I thought I recognized Kumar Pallana as Rhoda’s fellow custodian, Purdeep. I thought he was a wonderful character, and Pallana played him quite convincingly.

The other standout was Diane Ciesla as Dr. Joan Tallis. Her scene was well-played and seemed so surreal and creepy partially because of her strong performance.

Another Earth is in many ways beautiful, and certainly it’s a great film for starting conversations that could well become deeply meaningful. The music in the movie is beautiful, and it certainly explores human relationships and mechanisms such as grief, atonement, guilt, forgiveness, acceptance, enlightenment, despair and hope. I suppose it just disappointed me because I think it could have retained all of its positive qualities and also offered a more satisfying story.

Another Earth hanging around in the sky is distracting, and as often as it creates wonderful imagery and symbolism, it even more often creates a way for the filmmakers to sidestep fully exploring any of the issues the film examines. If you go expecting a science fiction movie, you will probably hate it. Instead, it’s the kind of film that creates a surreal situation in which to examine the consequences of our actions and reactions. It’s beautiful, all right, and it’s compelling and tragic and true, but I think it could have been more. It could have been beautiful and compelling and tragic and true and entertaining and satisfying.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


P: My robot is so sick. He used to be the big sister, but now he's the little sister.
Me: Why is he the little sister now?
P: Well, he's trying to get bigger, but he got so sick. He ate too many robot food.
Me: He ate too much robot food? Oh dear! What do robots eat?
P: SIYOP! But it had germs in it.
Me: What do they eat?
P: Seeeeahhhp!
Me: Slop?
P: Yeah. But his slop had too many germs in it. (with a huge smile) My piggie eats slop, too. But he doesn't get sick because he's not a robot.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Late August Facebook Posts

Penelope (slurping her blue Icee): Did you get a brain freeze, Bubby? I got a brain freeze, too!
Penelope (watching Grayson play video games): That was creepy, Mommy? Who's talking to Batman right now? He's creepy.
August 20 at 4:47pm

Penelope (trying to distract Grayson): Look Bubby! (She thrusts her talking cooking pot in his face; a toy dog is in there) Puppy soup!
Me: Why did you make puppy soup?
Penelope (naughtily): Because I wanted to eat it!
Grayson: She's an evil witch!
Penelope (giggling): I can't wait to eat my puppy soup all up! Yum!
August 20 at 4:59pm

The ghost who's been chasing me around the house the past several nights suddenly got much smarter about doubling back and is now quite sneaky about actually catching me!
August 20 at 9:55pm

Penelope just came prancing down the stairs wearing a bra around her neck. It covers the whole front of her body that way.
Me: What are you wearing?
Penelope (cheerfully): That's Grandma's bra.
Me: Where did you get Grandma's bra?
Penelope: From upstairs.
Me: Why are you wearing it?
Penelope: Cause it's like a shirt you can put your toe in.
Me: Does Grandma know you have her bra?
(Penelope grins broadly, disappears up the stairs, grinning all the way.)
August 20 at 10:06pm

My ghost just got a wicked goose-egg on her head when she accidentally slid into the foot rest of the reclining love seat. It's so hard not to overreact. I don't know how Derrick stays so calm. How did my mother survive having me, the kid who was always going to the ER with head trauma?
August 20 at 10:17pm

I would like to add that we were not playing chase when she fell.
August 20 at 10:19pm

Oh my daughter's newest obsession is to pretend she's a ghost haunting our house. She told me several days ago that she's trying to make a new Haunted Mansion at our house. (We went to Disneyland, and when she finally realized that we aren't going back any time soon, she took matters into her own hands.) She likes to pretend she's a ghost because she thinks other ghosts might come and join her. I guess you could say she's recruiting.
August 20 at 10:33pm

Derrick, who has been researching concussions online is totally cracking me up right now. "It says look for irritability, and of course, she's always irritable. Irregular sleeping habits...well..."
August 20 at 10:36pm

He said, "Last night's behavior was more typical of a concussion, but she didn't hit her head!"
August 20 at 10:37pm

I know! There was this horrible WHAMSMACK noise when she hit it. The noise was actually what scared me so much!
August 20 at 11:16pm

Me: Penelope, everyone is going to bed. Do you want me to read you a bedtime story?
Penelope: No.
Me: Do you want to come down here and watch Mickey Mouse with me?
Penelope: No.
Me: Well, what do you want to do?
Penelope: I just want to play all day. You stay downstairs and write. I'm going to stay upstairs and not go to bed.
August 20 at 11:49pm

Me: How is your head?
P: It's not better. It still hurts even worse. Grandma took my ice bag away, and it melted in the sink. I will never be better. (All this in a very cheerful tone.)
Penelope (opening a book): Once long ago there was a boy named Alexander.
Me: Tell me about him.
P: I can't.
Me: Why not?
P: Because I'm too little to know how to read this book. Let's read Easter Bugs!
August 21 at 12:43 am

Simba (played by Penelope, climbing on top of Nala): I'm going to eat you all up. I like to eat other kitties! (Makes smacking noises, then sings) Hakuna Mahtahna! I ate Nala! Hakuna Mahtshna! I ate Nala!
For some reason, she sings it "mahtahna"
August 22 at 12:59am

Me: Why did Simba eat Nala?
P: Because Simbo was so hungry, and she was made out of cheese. Hakuna Mahtahna!
August 22 at 1:01am

Penelope: Simbo, come back!
Me: Oh no! What happened to Simba?
Penelope: He's down there on the floor. You get him, Mama. He's trying to find some cat food for Simbo and Nala. They look a little bit like dalmatians. (trying to stuff them in a toy car) Simbo can't drive in this car. He has to walk home all by himself.
Me: Poor Simba!
Penelope: Maybe he'll eat a cheese cracker.
August 22 at 1:23pm

Penelope's new favorite song: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Tuesday, Friday, Sat-today! Toot!
August 22 at 1:25 pm

Penelope: Mommy, you please be the doctor. See this dragon? Look he has wings and terrible teeth.
Me: Oh no!
Penelope: But no, he's a nice dragon. You're the doctor. His tummy is so sick.
Me: Did he eat something bad?
Penelope: Maybe dragon food. It was oranges and peas, but now he's going to throw up.
August 22 at 1:45pm

P (getting louder): Mommy! Mom! MOM!
Me: What is it?
P: My kitties are going to die. They were eating cat food.
Me: Was something bad in there?
P: Yeah. Germs.
Me: What should I do to help your kitties?
P: A shot and medicine and milk and maybe apple juice. Yeah, that will make them feel better. Oooh! It's cold in here!
Me: That's because you don't have any clothes on.
P: I need some socks.
Me: Maybe you should wear a shirt!
P: No! I'm going to be a naked-doodle-doo!
August 22 at 1:51pm

Penelope: Now the dragon can fit. (Putting him in the princess carriage and giggling) He's having a wonderful time!
August 22 at 1:56pm

Penelope (crab-walking around the kitchen floor): Hakuna Matahna! Wonderful Day! Hakuna Matahna! Wonderful Day-ay-ay!
August 22 at 2:52pm

Penelope's Latest Check-Up
Age: 30 months (But she's really 31 months)
Weight: 34.5 pounds
Height: 38 inches
Head Circumference: 49.8
August 22 at 4:55 pm

My mom: Penelope, will you go upstairs and tell Grandpa dinner is ready?
Penelope: No!
Me: Will you tell him if I go with you?
Penelope: (sighing) Hokay. (Stops halfway up the stairs) Ohhh...
Me: Let's hurry. Dinner will be over by the time we get back.
Penelope: My bone hurts.
Me: Your bone hurts?
Penelope: Yes. I can't walk any more. (Lifting her leg) Look at the bone in my leg. It's no good. My bone is just no good. I can't go on anymore.
August 22 at 7:23pm

Penelope (appears from out of nowhere, begins sniffing my keyboard): Mommy, I smell your files.
August 22 at 10:05pm

Penelope (brushing her hair with a Strawberry Shortcake brush): I'm just brushing my hair with my little brush. Is this better?
My mom: Yeah, well I think brushing hair always make it look better.
Penelope: (cheerfully) I get rid of the hair out of my eyes with my little teeny weeny brush!
August 22 at 10:20 pm

Penelope: Why are you talking so long, Dada? You have to stop!
August 23 at 12:55 am

Mom and Penelope in a heated argument (on Penelope's side)...
Mom: How about Cornelius?
Penelope: No, DELLA!
Mom: Cornelius Rayburn!
Penelope: DELLA! It's gonna be a GIRL!

I'm not even pregnant yet!
August 23 at 6:57pm

Penelope: I tried to soak my nose in the water, and I did it!
Grandma: You tried, and you did it?
Grandpa: Success!
Grandma: You did it or you didn't do it?
Penelope: I did it. See? It's really wet!

Earlier, she announced out of nowhere, "I'm just licking my knees."
August 23 at 9:33pm

Penelope: What is this? It looks kind of creepy!
Me: Looks like a brain or vomit.
Penelope: Maybe it's some kind of creature or maybe it's a snake toot.
Me: I've never seen a snake toot that solid.
P: Now you have!

August 24 at 12:59 am

Grandma: I think it's time to watch Poirot. Which one should we watch?
Penelope: (excitedly) Oooh! Let's watch the Halloween party!
August 24 at 5:19 pm

She is so adorable! She's sitting in there in her papasan chair going "oooh!" when something spooky comes onscreen.
August 24 at 5:23pm

Penelope (sitting on Derrick's lap and looking up at me with a beguiling smile): Hey, Mama! I love your pretty eyes!
August 24 at 7:27pm

She was just trying to butter me up, I'm sure, since she'd climbed up into Derrick's lap in the first place to try to get closer to his ears in order to interrupt me more successfully. She'd just said, "Mommy is too loud."
August 24 at 11:36pm

Could it actually be about to rain???????????????????????
August 24 at 9:25pm

Penelope (crawling past the bookcase): Stacking dolls! Where are you?
Me: Here they are!
(A huge, old, dusty hardback almanac falls on top of her.)
P: Ow! Bonk! This dusty old book fell on me. (Lifting it with a groan) Dear me! I hope it's okay!
Me: It's fine. How are you?
P: Very well.
Penelope: I like your Mountain Dew pants. They look kind of like khaki, but they're kind of cokey!

I'm assuming she was just making silly sounds!
August 25 at 12:43 am

Penelope: Are you going to the movie right now?
Me: Yes, and I really wish you could come, but it's rated R, so little kids can't see it. It has a lot of blood and a lot of scary stuff.
Penelope (wisely): Does it have a really icky old man in it?
Me: Maybe.
Penelope (holding Simba in her hand): This is Simba.
Grandma: No, this is Nala. Where's Simba?
Penelope: This one is Simba.
Grandma: It looks like Nala to me.
Penelope: Put on your other glasses.
August 25 at 9:42pm

Penelope: Did you see the movie?
Me (trying to make it sound unappealing): Yeah, but it was really scary. There was a witch with long silver fingernails, and she used them to cut open people's throats, and all this blood came out and spattered everywhere.
Penelope (intrigued): Ooh! I wanna see it! Can I see it?
August 25 at 9:43pm

Penelope: Here's some gummy bears for you, Mommy. (We brought her back gummy bears for a treat.)
Me: Thank you, but I don't need all these gummy bears.
Penelope: Are you so full from all the popcorn you're always eating all the time?
August 25 at 9:46pm

Penelope (exploring the classics movie cabinet with me): What's this one? This looks like a werewolf.
Me: Yes, it's called The Wolfman. Would you like to come watch it with me?
Penelope: No, I just want to sit here forever in the shadows by all these movies. It's kind of like a tea party.
August 25 at 11:03pm

Penelope: My poor little monster is so crying. He's just a baby, and he's all alone out there because he's waiting for me to scare me. But it's so dark out there, and he can't find his Mommy and Daddy.
Me: (to Merry, showing Penelope her new Pigeon bingo game) Where did you find that?
Merry: I got it at Target. I almost got somebody a princess dress, but they weren't...
Penelope (interrupting with a gloomy sigh): Ohhhhhh. I want to have a costume!
Friday at 1:07pm

Penelope: Baby Jesus went on Splash Mountain!
Me: He did?!
Penelope: Yeah, he did!
Me: Did he like it?
Penelope: Yeah, he did.
Friday at 4:15pm

Penelope: (eating a chip) These look like Avatar, Grandma. (Holding up a corn chip) This is the avatar!

(I'm not sure what she's talking about.)
Friday at 10:17pm

Penelope (first words on waking up): Did the Easter Bunny come and bring me eggs?
Derrick's Mom: The whole time we were in Wyoming, we never made it to Yellowstone Park. One time, we were right at the gates, but we never made it in!
Derrick's Dad: Honey, it was closed!
Derrick's Mom: The whole two years we were up there?
Saturday at 4:28pm

Me (looking at the TV): Kill Devil Hills? What kind of a name is that?
Penelope (matter-of-facty): It's a name by Mercer Mayer.

My sister brought me a shirt from the New Orleans Aquarium featuring Hairy Otter, an otter dressed like Harry Potter. I was wearing it yesterday, but changed before bed.
Penelope: Oh! Why did you put on a new shirt? I liked your Hairy Otter shirt. He kind of looks like Harry Potter to me.
Yesterday at 11:24 am

Penelope: Can I have some ice cream?
Grandpa: What kind do you want, Nellie?
Penelope: Play-doh!
Grandma (realizing): Oh, she wants one of the little, individual cups.
Yesterday at 3:11pm

Penelope: Is Susan going to turn into a monster?
Me: I think so! And it's her wedding day, too!
Penelope: Look at her dress. She's going to get married.
Me: I wore a dress like that when I married Daddy.
Penelope: I'm going to marry my mommy.
Me: You are? Oh, that's so nice! But I was going to give you my wedding dress! What will I wear?
Penelope: I don't know. When are the aliens coming?
23 hours ago

Penelope: I lost my peanuts. All my peanuts are gone!
Me: What happened to them?
Penelope: Maybe they're at the store stacking groceries. And then everything caught on fire--red and orange! Be careful what you're doing, peanuts!
about an hour ago

Penelope: Penelope Jane was eaten by a birdie, by my birdie, by this birdie. He said she tasted good like food.
Me: But aren't you Penelope Jane?
Penelope: Nooooooo...I'm Penelope Jane Susan.
52 minutes ago