Another Earth (2011)

21 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

It’s a wonderful, thought-provoking image—another planet looking very much like Earth just visible up there in the sky. If you saw that, what would you feel? I’d be asking many questions—What is it like up there? Is something up there? If this is indeed another Earth (“Earth 2,” everybody calls it), does that mean there are mirrored identities of ourselves up there as well? We all imagine traveling to distant worlds “up there.” Only this one seems to be “another Earth.”

This image is seen through “Another Earth,” a low-budget indie drama with science fiction elements and a human emotion story. It gives us the premise of an essay contest that NASA is throwing, and whoever wins gets to travel to Earth 2, four years after it was first seen in the sky. What is truly up there? This is a big chance to find out, given that those chosen to travel up there don’t perish from the journey. But then something mysterious happens. On the TV news, “first contact” is attempted and accomplished…seemingly by an exact copy of the woman making radio contact with Earth 2. Whatever she went through, the other went through. What does this mean? Earth 2 is a mirror of us and our own planet?

Here’s a great dialogue exchange between the two central characters of “Another Earth”—she asks him, “If you met yourself, what would you say?” (pause) “’Hey, wanna play a video game?’…He’d probably beat me.”

OK, since the planet is right up there in the sky, you can go ahead and question the laws of physics—say that the planets would collide and we’d all be cosmic dust, instead of having us so close to each other that we could visit each other. But maybe there’s another possibility. Maybe this Earth 2 is parallel to our own. If you’ve seen “The Twilight Zone,” you’d know that science doesn’t always explain everything. Maybe this is a mysterious entity wrapped around a newly-formed planet that mirrors our own—thus a parallel dimension that could give us all second chances in our other selves up there. Physics wouldn’t matter anything then, if it doesn’t matter much itself.

“Another Earth” is also about the crossing paths of a bright young woman named Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay with the director Mike Cahill) and accomplished composer John Burroughs (William Mapother, Ethan from “Lost”). This was the night when Earth 2 was discovered in the night sky, just as Rhoda was celebrating her acceptance into M.I.T. by getting drunk. When she looks up at the sky while driving to see the other Earth, she crashes into John Burroughs’ car, accidentally taking the lives of John’s wife and son, and placing him in a coma.

Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison and feels like an outcast. There doesn’t seem to be anything there for her anymore. She feels devastated by the deaths she has caused and wishes for a way to redeem herself. Then, she learns that John has awakened from his coma and decides to pay him a visit, posing as a cleaning lady. She wants to tell him that she’s the one responsible for the death of his loved ones, but she’s too afraid to say anything.

“Another Earth” is far from a typical sci-fi movie. It has sci-fi elements, but it keeps the human elements in focus. As Rhoda and John get more acquainted with each other (with John still not knowing who Rhoda really is—because she was a minor at the time of the accident, he was never told her real name), they really become good friends together. Rhoda is the only one of the two that is aware of their deep connection with each other and it’s because of her that John stops becoming a depressed recluse and starts becoming more open and friendly.

The relationship is brought upon by chance of Earth 2, and meanwhile, Rhoda has submitted her own essay into the contest to go into Earth 2 and see if there’s another Rhoda up there that deserves a second chance because of the original Rhoda’s first chance. Maybe John can get another chance as well. Just maybe.

I cared very much for the plot of “Another Earth” and found myself thinking more about the possibility of another world out there similar to ours. I was also interested by this relationship between Rhoda and John. Brit Marling and William Mapother do convincing jobs at showing us these characters and what they’re going through.

Now, without giving anything away, I’m not quite sure I understand the ending correctly. And this ending is split with people—they either hate it or tolerate it. I don’t hate it. In fact, writing this review just gets me thinking about it. If you want to know what I mean, seek out “Another Earth” and come up with a conclusion for yourself.

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