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Movie Review: Another Earth (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13

Appropriate for ages 13 and up. There is a brief shot of nonsexual half nudity and a scene of sexuality consisting of the passionate grappling and clothes-tugging prior to the main event. Underage drinking and drunk driving are part of the story but their negative consequences are made very clear. Marijuana smoking is seen in passing—blink and you’ll miss it. There is more than one instance of suicidal behavior, and one dramatic argument that leads to a physical showdown. Finally, the plot hinges on a shocking car accident and the deaths it causes. In all, this material is not at all gratuitous and is easy to accept as essential to the plot.

Double Meaning

Another Earth tests the personal implications of learning we are not alone

by Jared Peterson

NOTE: This review contains some minor spoilers.

A teenager goes to party. Rhoda (Brit Marling) is blonde, bright and bound for MIT, where she plans to study astrophysics. She drinks and dances and flirts with the celebratory joy and hubris that comes with youth and possibility. On her drive home she hears news of a startling discovery: another planet in the solar system, appearing out of nowhere right in our orbital backyard. Gazing in woozy wonder at the new dot in the night sky, she slams head on into another car, killing all but one of the passengers. The world has changed forever.

Fast-forward four years, when Rhoda is released from prison. Drained of life and ambition, she seeks lonely, lowly work mopping the floors of her old high school. In an attempt at redemption, she tracks down the crash’s only survivor, John Burroughs (William Mapother), a former musician and professor. He has holed up in a decrepit country house—a husk of a man shuffling around in a ratty bathrobe and low-slung knit cap, clutching his head in a perpetual existential migraine. He doesn’t recognize her—he could never bring himself to learn more about the accident that killed his wife and child—and at the moment of truth Rhoda loses her nerve and concocts some story about being there for a trial housecleaning. To her surprise, he accepts, and soon she is there every week doing, it seems, the only thing she can to help pick up the pieces of his life.

Hanging above all this, literally, is a world of possibility. The planet has been revealed to be an exact copy of our own. Every continent, city and landscape is replicated, and every single person, it turns out has a doppelganger floating above. Of course, the implications of this are felt by the entire human race. Snippets of overheard media discussion posit theories of “what it all means”. But the story stays focused on Rhoda and John and the way their lives and fates are inexorably to this event. Rhoda half-heartedly enters a contest to join a group of astronauts headed to the mirror world, it solidifies the central question of the film: whether the existence of another self can provide any comfort whatsoever.

“Science fiction” is a loaded and limiting term, but broadly speaking the genre simply explores dramatic possibilities generated by a “what-if” scenario—“Boy meets girl” becomes “Boy meets dark tyrant of the galaxy who turns out to be his father;” “World-weary cop struggles with morality” becomes “World-weary cop who may or may not be a robot struggles with the morality of making a living killing robots.”

But there’s high-concept and then there’s high-concept. The existential poser of Another Earth is the ultimate story starter. The concept is not merely high but broad and all encompassing—there isn’t anyone who isn’t challenged by the thought of the meaning of their existence, and who wouldn’t be deeply, personally affected by the discovery of a parallel self. There are six billion stories here, but this film’s distinction is the way it resolutely focuses on a single one. In doing so, it also sidesteps one of the lazier elements in speculative movies: the media montage—that inevitable moment where the 24-hour news torsos pop in to compress and dilute the big picture. Another Earth does it, too, but at least the voices are those of scientists and philosophers, those willing to grapple with the intricacies of the events at hand.

Mike Cahill directed, shot and edited the film on a shoestring budget, and all of this contributes to the movie feeling fundamentally personal and intimate. Brit Marling co-wrote the script with Cahill, and as Rhoda she is simply mesmerizing at times—she’s the most natural beauty to appear on screen in recent memory, and her blue eyes flicker with compelling glints of the character’s sadness and curiosity. It’s worth mentioning the music, by electronica mashup artists Fall on Your Sword; it slides between more familiar, strings-heavy accompaniment and bizarre, ethereal tones and clicks reminiscent (intentionally, I hope) of the revolutionary soundtrack of Forbidden Planet. It’s odd and oddly right—the effect is heavily moody, but it ties scenes together with a kind of searching quality, like sifting for a signal on the radio only to find that the static has become music all its own.

With one doozy of a high concept, Another Earth manages to strike a balance between blowing your mind and tugging at your heart.



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