In Another Earth, a planet identical to our own suddenly appears in the sky, looming like a reflection in an enormous mirror. The philosophical impact of this is expressed in a moving, intimate story of loss and second chances.
Brit Marling, who also co-wrote and co-produced the film with director Mike Cahill, plays Rhoda, whose promising academic career is cut short by one incredibly foolish mistake. Driving home drunk after a party, she looks out her window to see the just-discovered new Earth — and plows into the car of John (William Mapother) and his family, killing his wife and young son.
After serving four years in prison, Rhoda returns home and looks for some way to connect with the man whose life she ruined.
There is no shortage of movies about people trying to atone for past sins. What Another Earth offers is dramatic weight and excellent performances from Marling and Mapother. There are long, quiet scenes with little dialogue, and Cahill’s probing close-ups leave no room for thespian error.
He’s also a fan of shaky camerawork and voiceovers, which can be deadly in the hands of lesser filmmakers. That he uses both techniques with skill and sensitivity is remarkable, especially given his lack of experience (this is his first feature, after directing a documentary in 2004).
It’s easy to nitpick the movie’s premise, as many sci-fi fans already have. Despite the involvement of astrophysicist Richard Berendzen, who offers some intriguing theories on how this could happen, the idea of a huge twin planet coming so close to Earth without causing widespread devastation is still absurd. It also seems extraneous to the human story, except in the most obvious metaphorical sense.
Somehow, though, Another Earth is deeply affecting, even in its most outrageous, pretentious moments. It raises big questions and finds thoughtful ways of addressing them, using the fantastical set-up as a backdrop.
Its science may be a bit bogus, but its fiction is powerful and emotionally authentic.
Another Earth: 3 stars out of 4
Rated PG-13 Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes