Ambition is in short supply right now in the movies. We do have hugely expensive, technically complex flicks like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but that film arguably has little on its mind other than blowing up Chicago, using 3-D to highlight the curves of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and, most importantly, grabbing your spare dollars (if you have any, nowadays). There are also countless low-budget indie movies. Unfortunately, most of them can’t (or won’t) look beyond the eternal dilemma of what 20-somethings should do after college and the minutiae of failing relationships. This makes a stylistically and thematically ambitious film like Another Earth especially welcome, particularly coming in the science fiction genre (which, with a few exceptions, has been fairly weak in recent years).
Rhoda (newcomer Brit Marling) is a beautiful young student with a seemingly bright future in astronomy ahead of her. Rhoda is at a party when a new planet is discovered that was previously hidden behind the sun. On her way home, intoxicated by alcohol and fascinated by the new gleaming orb in the night sky, she crashes into another car, immediately killing the wife and child of composer John Burroughs (William Mapother). When she emerges from prison several years later, Rhoda feels lost amidst her formerly comforting family, and haunted with guilt over the death and destruction she has inadvertently rained down on John and his family. She goes to apologize to John, but chickens out, and ends up anonymously befriending the deeply depressed composer. Rhoda also enters an essay contest to win a seat on the first spaceship to the new planet, which is now called Earth 2 and seems to have a powerfully symbiotic relationship with our planet. As Rhoda and John grow closer, she (and everyone else) becomes increasingly fascinated by the possibility that there is another Earth, and not only are we not alone in the galaxy, but there might also be another you out there as well.
The film’s special effects are fairly simple (the entire effects budget probably wouldn’t pay for ten seconds of Transformers’ CGI), but they are both lovely and evocative, conjuring up unsettling images of a sky that is no longer familiar.
Another Earth‘s fantastical conceits are balanced by the forceful yet subtle performances of the two leads, especially Marling, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
As expected in a first film, Another Earth is not perfect. The initial setup is clumsy and some of the concept is cribbed from Gerry Anderson’s underrated 1969 science fiction flick Journey to the Far Side of the Sun aka Doppelgänger, which was the first live-action work from the legendary creator of the Thunderbirds.
Despite these flaws, the film grows steadily more intense, weaving a mesmerizing atmosphere of existential dread. In a manner reminiscent of the best of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, filmmaker Mike Cahill uses the imaginative potential of science fiction to offer a fascinating exploration of fate, the always fragile hope of redemption and our uncertain place in the cosmos.