First things first – the most important thing you should know about the film Another Earth is that even though its premise involves a mirror Earth appearing in the sky, it is not primarily a science fiction movie. It is really a character study of two people brought together by a single, tragic event. The mirror Earth functions as the biggest metaphor for second chances ever put on the silver screen. The reason it is important to know this is that those people who went into the film expecting to see sci-fi were hugely disappointed. I had no expectations and I ended up liking this movie more and more as it went along. I loved the final scene in the film.
The movie starts out with 17 year old Rhoda Williams (co-writer Brit Marling) driving home from a party. She’s gotten into MIT and she’s going to study astrophysics. She is listening to the radio when an announcement is made of the appearance of a planet in the sky – one that can be seen by the naked eye. Rhoda is looking out of the window of her car at it when she drives through a stop sign and into the car of music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother). His wife and child are killed in the accident, and he is left in a coma.
Rhoda is charged with manslaughter, but because she is a minor her name is kept out of the papers. When John finally comes out of his coma the case is already over and Rhoda is in prison. After four years she gets out, but she takes a job as a janitor almost as a continuing penance for what she did.
She finally decides that she needs to apologize to Burroughs. She finds out where he lives and knocks on his door. When he answers, though, she chickens out. She comes up with the excuse that she works for a local cleaning service and they are having a promotion to attract new customers. If he wants, she will clean for one day for free. If he likes the service, he can hire the company full time. He accepts, and caught in her own lie, she ends up working in his house for the day.
She can see that he is living in squalor. He never got his life back together after it was ripped apart. He hasn’t been able to compose any new music, either. When she finishes for the day he says he will hire the service full time. She says it may not be her who comes back the following week. Even though she gets away with her lie undetected, she finds herself going back again the next week, and the next, and the next.
These two damaged people start to develop first a friendship, then something more. His life starts to come around, he’s writing music again, and she gets to feel like she is helping him recover. At no point has she told him who she is, though.
Meanwhile, this other Earth has been getting closer over the years. Scientists can see that it is a physical mirror for our Earth, right down to the continents and cities. When contact is made with it, they find out that even the people on this other Earth are mirrors for the ones on our planet. A rich businessman (read: Richard Branson) decides to have a contest to send a civilian to the other Earth.
When Rhoda finds out about this, she decides to enter. The thing that intrigues her the most is that it appears that this other Earth was identical until the first night it appeared. After that, the people and events on the two planets have been diverging. She wonders if the version of her on this other Earth did not cause the accident that night and what it would be like to meet her. The outcome of all of this may not be what you expect.
I mentioned at the top that I loved the final scene in the movie. Without spoiling anything, I can say that I saw a lot of questions about it. Apparently it confused a lot of people who hadn’t been paying attention to the rest of the movie.
Prior to this film I had never heard of actress and writer Brit Marling. It turns out she got an Economics degree and had a job offer from Goldman Sachs, but turned it down to go into films. Having trouble finding parts in movies, she decided to try her hand at writing. One of the results was this film. I really liked the intelligent script in this. Pay attention to an old parable that Marling’s character tells during the movie. It was obviously an influence on the story in this film.
The one area where the writing has been faulted is for the almost complete disregard for the effects a second planet like this would have on our Earth. Don’t look for accurate representations of the gravitational effects or the realities of communication and travel between the two planets. The fact that the other Earth keeps getting closer would also seem to indicate there will be a disastrous collision at some point, but no mention is made of that either. The disaster in this film happens at the beginning, not at the end. Ultimately, this movie isn’t about the science fiction; it’s about the two main characters, so the inaccuracy of the science isn’t that important to the film as a whole.
I am really hoping Brit Marling will be able to follow this film up with another one just as good. That may be tough because Another Earth won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. If you are looking for a sci-fi disaster film then this is not the movie for you. For everyone else, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars