‘Another Earth’ and ‘Tree of Life’ Comparison

Courtesy of indieWire

A couple of nights ago I had the pleasure of seeing Mike Cahill‘s “Another Earth” at the Kendall Square Cinema for the second time after seeing at the Independent Film Festival of Boston in April. Before seeing it a second time, it was my favorite movie so far this year, and now it’s only in the top three as it didn’t exactly hold up to its first viewing.

What I do appreciate about the film is that there’s much to explore and to digest in the emotional story, but also in the science-fiction aspect of the movie. There’s been a lot of comparisons coming off of the festival circuit, especially between the onslaught of apocalyptic stories coming out, including ‘Earth,’ “Take Shelter,” and Lars von Trier‘s newest “Melancholia.” I haven’t seen the last two, but I actually drew a comparison between ‘Earth’ and Terrence Malick‘s “Tree of Life,” which I saw a couple of months ago.

It might seem weird to compare the two because Malick is a genius of an auteur, while this is Cahill’s first feature-length narrative film. ‘Earth’ offers a more straight-forward story, while ‘Tree’ sort of rambles in and out of consciousness. What struck me about the two is that they’re both using science-fiction elements to enhance their dramatic story and make a statement about being a human in the vast, unknowable universe.

I feel almost as if the two directors are going for opposite messages. Cahill takes a very specific situation — recklessly killing a pregnant woman and child when young — and uses the idea that there are our mirror images out there to make Rhoda’s situation relatable. I found the idea of placing a second earth in the sky that contained another representation of ourselves to be a fascinating way to explore guilt and redemption in a way that I haven’t seen before.

Courtesy of filmsteak.com

On the other hand, Malick takes a philosophical quandary, one that we’ve all faced — where do we fit into this grand cosmos? — and brought it down to one very specific family’s story. Not everyone grew up O’Brien family did, but because we know the protagonist Jack is facing a crisis, we relate to his story. Malick isn’t wrestling with the same themes that Cahill is, but they both capture a loss of innocence and the aftermath, the getting along in the world.

Of course, I think the styles are drastically different: Malick lingers on images for no apparent reason and Cahill is almost manic with his zooms and pans (that was one of the things that bugged me on a second viewing). I like “Tree of Life” better because it felt grander, more pushed to the limits, but this is only Cahill’s first effort. Who is to say he won’t be making a “Tree of Life” one day in the future? If you haven’t been to see either, find the nearest independent theater and check both of them out. You won’t regret it.



  1. Michelle says:

    I haven’t seen ‘Tree of Life’ yet. I saw ‘Another Earth’ and loved it – the story is great. And I loved the musical saw scene – so cool. In case you don’t know, you can hear/download music from the movie Another Earth (the musical saw scene) on the composer’s website: http://www.scottmunsonmusic.com/news/music-in-film-another-earth-soundtrack/

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