Mike Cahill’s feature debut asks: What if we could start over, erase our most painful mistakes and move forward?
Sundance award winner
The sci-fi indie won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize (for films with a science or technology theme) and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2011.
Rhoda Williams (Marling) has just won a scholarship to MIT’s astrophysics program. Partying herself into a stupor, she decides to drive home. A turquoise disc fills the night sky. Rhoda gapes at the newly discovered sister planet.
With sickening inevitability, she crashes head on into another car. A mother and son are dead. A father lies comatose. Dazed, Rhoda wanders the scene.
Sci-fi meets art, truth
Another Earth blends science fiction, art and emotional truth. It’s stark and understated, a contemplation of regret and human possibility. Cahill co-wrote the mesmerizing, imaginative script with Marling, drawing upon the theoretical physics of parallel worlds.
Released from prison four years later, Rhoda is a shell of herself. She moves in with her upbeat parents and wisecracking brother.
In an attic room, she gazes lovingly at a poster of the Horsehead nebula. Rhoda ponders distant Earth 2. She is that far from forgiving herself.
Newcomer Marling is a talent to watch. She embodies desolation with other-worldly poise and willowy beauty. A felon, Rhoda takes a school janitorial job because she doesn’t want to talk to people.
She trudges to and from work, hunched, her face hidden under a hood. Eventually she befriends an elderly janitor Purdeep (Kumar Pallana).
William Mapother (In the Bedroom and TV’s Lost) plays John Burroughs, a Yale professor and composer who is the other survivor of the tragedy. Rhoda rehearses her confession and knocks on his door one day.
When he answers, she loses her nerve. She pretends to be a maid, asking if he would like a free trial house cleaning. Drunk and depressed, he accepts.
The characters of Another Earth don’t interact so much as they revolve slowly through each other’s orbits. There’s a sense of vast eternity, a lonely hum.
Mapother and Marling are remarkable alone and together. Dazed and tentative, they become animated, then withdrawn. In time, they grow more fluent with each other.
Laws of physics
John confronts Rhoda. He knows she is lying. She has never cashed his checks. The Maid in Haven cleaning service has never heard of her. Still he’s drawn to her. Their romantic pull, while unlikely, is mysterious and certain as a law of physics.
Purdeep acts as a kind of shaman for Rhoda. He’s the first one who is able to evoke real feeling from her. In an exquisite scene, he coaxes her back to life from what may be his deathbed.
Cinematography as sacrament
Cahill’s cinematography is observant and reverent. His use of a hand-held camera helps build delicious anticipation. John and Rhoda emerge as she clears the clutter of his rural farmhouse. Dust motes float like disembodied souls.
Contact is made with Earth 2. Rhoda enters an essay contest to win a space shuttle trip to the planet. John fears for her safety, but she has nothing to lose.
Throughout Another Earth, an astrophysicist muses reassuringly over the radio. “There’s another you out there. . . . Therein lies the opportunity and the mystery.”
The film’s startling end feels inspiring and hopeful. (4.5 out of 5 stars)
If you like Another Earth, you might enjoy: Hereafter.
Another Earth 2011 / PG-13 / 1 hour, 32 min
Cast Overview: William Mapother, Brit Marling, Kumar Pallana, DJ Flava
Director: Mike Cahill
Genre: Sci-Fi, Indie, Drama