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Movie Review: ‘Another Earth’

August 11, 2011
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It’s a shame that Another Earth is being marketed as a science fiction film, because that component of the film is quite small, and merely serves as a backdrop for a beautiful and moving story. I hope that by getting that right out there, some people might go into the film with adjusted expectations, and enjoy it for what it is.

The film begins with another earth (creatively named Earth 2) being discovered in the skies. Earth 2 is inhabited with alternate versions of Earth’s inhabitants. Doppelgangers, if you will. Rhoda (Brit Marling) has just been accepted to MIT, and has a promising future ahead of her, but all of that is wiped out in a blink of an eye. On her way home from a party, Rhoda takes her eyes off the road for a split second to try to catch a glimpse of Earth 2, and in that brief moment, she plows into another car, killing a woman and child. Since she had been drinking, Rhoda is sentenced to four years in prison.

After her release from prison, Rhoda doesn’t pursue her academic career, she checks out of society altogether and takes a job as a janitor. No doubt she is drowning in so much guilt that she doesn’t believe she deserves anything else. Rhoda seeks out to make amends with the man whose wife and child she killed. John (William Mapother, Lost) is a music composer who has turned to the comfort of the bottle in the absence of real human companionship. Instead of apologizing, she infiltrates his life, trying (in her own warped way) to make it better. She is clearly a nurturer, and feels it is her duty to ease his suffering. It all begins innocently, with her cleaning his house (but she will never cash his checks), but veers into inappropriate and disturbing when the two become bedmates.

Rhoda’s motives are pure, but you could play devil’s advocate and argue that she is acting out of selfish need to assuage her guilt. It really muddies the waters when she doesn’t come clean with her true identity, because she seduces this man who would probably be repulsed and horrified if he knew that she was the one who took away his family.  It’s understandable that anyone would need to make reparations, but the way she goes about it is slightly perverted. It’s complicated, and the film made me think about the implications long after I left the theater. As for Earth 2, what are Rhoda and John’s doubles doing there?  Do they know each other?  Are John’s wife and child alive and well on Earth 2?

The film punched me in the gut from the opening scene, and I found it haunting, ethereal, and touching. It was made on a budget of only half a million dollars, and if you can stomach a lot of zooming angles and hand-held camera work, it looks good. I got caught up in the story, and didn’t notice those things as much. It is methodically paced (which translates to boring for some), and has precious little dialogue, but it doesn’t need it. It is essentially a character study between these two lost souls who probably shouldn’t be together at all-or should they? It’s a two-man show (I can easily imagine it as a play), and Marling and Mapother are both excellent. I think they work well in the roles because they are not instantly recognizable to audiences, thus their performances are natural. They simply are the characters.

Marling is an exciting emerging talent. She co-wrote the film with Mike Cahill (who also directed), and she is the real deal. She is beautiful, smart and unassuming. I ran into her in Austin at SXSW, and she was absolutely one of the most humble actors I have ever met. She also co-wrote and starred in Sound of My Voice, another moody film about a cult. If you ever get a chance to see it, run-don’t walk. It’s amazing stuff, and another low-budget triumph. Sound of My Voice and Another Earth both received accolades at Sundance and SXSW this year.

I can see how this film would be extremely divisive.  The sci-fi element is really never addressed (save for a minor subplot I won’t reveal), which is sure to frustrate viewers who want answers. You’re not going to get them. But if you are looking for a philosophical, thought provoking film you won’t find much better this year. For some reason this one really got under my skin.

Rating 4/5

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