Exclusive Interview With Mike Cahill

Exclusive Interview With Mike Cahill

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
20th Century Fox International

Release date: December 2nd, 2011
Certificate (UK): 12A
Running time: 92 minutes

Director: Mike Cahill
Writers: Mike Cahill, Brit Marling
Music: Fall On Your Sword

Cast: Brit Marling, Matthew-Lee Erlbach, William Mapother

Official UK Movie Site

The first thing that came to my mind after seeing Another Earth was that I really needed to talk to the film’s writer, director, producer and editor Mike Cahill. It’s so rare for a film to not only affect you on an emotional level but on an intellectual level as well.

Cahill’s first feature, which he wrote and directed, was the 2004 documentary, Boxers and Ballerinas. It was a film that looked at the lives of four very different people – two in Florida and two in Havana — with an eye on the US-Cuba conflict. A year later Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man was released. It told the story of the Canadian artist’s life, it was directed by Lian Lunson who also produced it with Mel Gibson, and Cahill edited it.

Another Earth

This was followed by Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out, a documentary by Stewart Copeland, the drummer from The Police — it told of the band’s rise to fame and their eventual break-up in 1982. His latest feature is of course Another Earth, a film so striking in both its content and style that I just couldn’t get it out of my head, nor would I want to. It left me wanting to ask Cahill so many questions and I’m thankful he had some time to answer them when I got in touch.

What first sparked your interest in the possibility of there being something like another Earth?

“It’s hard to narrow it down to the initial spark — but broadly speaking I’ve been a casual fan of astrophysics, and of those great voices who bring the stars close to home, like Carl Sagan and Dr. Richard Berendzen. I remember when NASA launched its Kepler mission a few years back and thought that within a matter of time we will discover other Earth-like planets. I also geeked out reading about string theory, and the mathematical likelihood of a multiverse, particularly the work of Brian Greene. But that being said, the thing that I really hooked into was the emotional repercussion of having alternate versions of ourselves. What would we feel if we could bear witness to ourselves — externalizing the internal. And then began the twisting of science into the realm of poetry and metaphor as it is used in the film.”

In the movie we have these two characters, John and Rhoda, who exist in this kind of isolation after what takes place at the start of the film. Did you experience a similar kind of isolation while writing the story?

Another Earth

“Isolation might not be the right word for what I experienced while writing with Brit, meaning I didn’t directly experientially empathize with the struggle that the two main characters endure. But writing definitely does involve a sort of isolation — Henry Miller said it best when he wrote, ‘Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself is capable of uttering profound truths.’ When writing you have to dig deep into the isolation of the mind to find the things that connect us all. All humans derive from the same source.”

One of the central questions the film poses is “what would it be like to meet yourself?” Yet the question is much bigger than it seems. Do you think, given the global problems we’re facing today, that it’s now more pressing than ever that we ask “is the human race ready to encounter itself?”

Another Earth

“Given that the human species has just hit the 7 billion mark as of October, I think it definitely is pressing for all of us to encounter ourselves. Although I imagine at any given time in the history of civilization it would still be quite an intense experience to stand outside of us and look back. Really the question ‘what would it be like to meet yourself’ is about getting some perspective on ourselves. Being present, being awake, being lucid. We could all do with a little more of that.”

With NASA announcing the discovery of Kepler-22b earlier this week, does it feel like it’s also about time we finally start to seriously consider life beyond our planet?

Another Earth

“Yes. There is definitely life beyond our planet. If space were the size of the ocean, the amount that we’ve looked at or explored, is no more than a glass of water. Kepler-22b is incredibly exciting.”

Another Earth is also about second chances. Do you think society rarely gives people like Rhoda, a former-convict, the second chances they so badly need?

“Forgiveness is an act of heroism. We should all be more heroic in life.”

How did the multiverse concept change your outlook on space?

Another Earth

“The multiverse, in a strange round about way, if true, would eliminate or at least lessen the impact of guilt, in a choice versus determinism sense. All possible outcomes simultaneously exist, a la Schrodinger’s Cat. Thus, there is a version of you that got it right. Knowing that potentially is possible, somehow creates a bit more internal peace, I think.”

After reading books by physicists like Greene and Hawking, I’m sure it wasn’t just your ideas about space that changed, but also time, was this the case?

“To be explored one day in another movie. But yes of course. Newton and Kant took contradictory sides on time, one being absolute, the other suggesting that time is a sensorial human faculty to unravel the massive amount of data we experience. I’m with Kant on that one.”

The “broken mirror theory” spoken by Dr. Richard Berendzen, which posits that as soon as the two parallel earths become aware of each other, their synchronicity is broken and from there they each follow different paths, was this an idea you were familiar with before working on the story?

Another Earth

“That concept evolved organically during the writing process. It was that wonderful ‘aha moment’ when the story starts telling you, the writers, how it wants to unfold.”

You’ve cited Krzysztof Kieślowski as being one of your favourite directors and The Double Life of Veronique being a personal favourite of yours, what was it about this particular film that captured your imagination?

Another Earth

“Kieslowski wrote, ‘It comes from a deep-rooted conviction that if there is anything worthwhile doing for the sake of culture, then it is touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people. There are too many things in the world which divide people, such as religion, politics, history and nationalism. If culture is capable of anything, then it is finding that which unites us all.’ Can I say any more? He finds the threads linking humanity, and he shows us the metaphysical within the textures of real life.”

Around the same time I saw Another Earth, I also saw Chris Marker’s La Jetée which you’ve also mentioned before. This remarkably rich and yet minimalist short film must have left quite an impression on you, what did it feel like when you first saw it?

“La Jetee inspires and transports and does so with very little means. It made me believe that the true currency of the world is ideas.”

What’s next for Earth 1’s Mike Cahill in terms of filmmaking?

“Tackling reincarnation as a metaphor for the power of the suppressed past. That is one project, among others.”

Finally, what reason would you give for wanting to visit Earth 2?

“To find truth, and then perhaps find the language — art, music, poetry, cinema — to articulate that truth.”

I have no doubt that whichever Earth I might exist in; a couple, few or an infinite amount, I’m out there keeping an eye on whatever Cahill writes, directs, produces or edits next, just as in this one.

About Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.