Another Earth is quietly and movingly out of this world.
Director Mike Cahill has woven sci-fi imaginings and quantum physics theories of parallel universes into a provocative meditation on the prospect of rewriting your life history. It is no simple task to spin such abstract notions into smart entertainment, but there is such a strong, creative voice stirring in Cahill’s first feature that it’s easy to forgive the shortcomings.
The film stars the ethereal actress Brit Marling, who co-wrote and co-produced with Cahill, and the rock-solid William Mapother (Ethan on Lost). They are strangers whose lives are upended by tragedy on a night seemingly filled with endless possibilities brought about by the discovery of a replica of Earth, dubbed Earth 2, in our skies. What-ifs abound — what if there’s another you?
The shoulders carrying the weight of these worlds belong to Rhoda (Marling), a high school senior whose MIT future goes up in flames after a horrific mistake sends her to jail, and John (Mapother), a composer whose life goes into a tailspin after an unbearable loss. The major scientific and philosophic implications of Earth 2 are debated by TV talking heads, and there are brief narrative threads offered by a scientist the filmmaker met while working on the film, that serve to answer the kind of questions one would have if something like this actually happened.
By melding that collision of events, the filmmakers use the ordinary to examine the extraordinary, forcing the central characters to contemplate how a choice can change a life. The intimate telling puts Another Earth in the tradition of humanistic sci-fi movies such as John Carpenter’s Starman and John Sayles’ Brother From Another Planet.
Set in the New Haven, Conn., area and moving between Rhoda’s un-mussed suburban neighborhood, John’s isolated rural house and the wind-swept Atlantic beaches that seem chilly year-round, the script takes us quickly from that fateful night to a present day four years later. Rhoda is out of jail, her dreams of becoming an astrophysicist now shelved for a janitorial job at her old high school. In fact, cleaning up messes — both literally and metaphorically — is her new obsession. John, meanwhile, is the living embodiment of a mess — drinking away the nights and days with piles of clothes, papers and dishes growing as his house and career deteriorate.
The heart of the film hangs on both the everyday and otherworldly. What will happen when Rhoda turns up at John’s door with a free trial offer from the Maid in Haven cleaning service, yet another level of her self-imposed penance, and will she win the essay contest for a life-altering spot on the space shuttle bound for Earth 2?
—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond:firstname.lastname@example.org