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Senior Correspondent

“Another Earth,” Not Just Another Science Fiction Film

Movie Review

Another Earth (2011) Directed by Mike Cahill

The unassuming, modestly budgeted “Another Earth” offers the best of both worlds.

This Sundance favorite works wonderfully as a piece of speculative fantasy fiction; it’s equally effective as a searing human drama.

This is a film that grabs you while you’re watching it and keeps you talking about it long after the lights come up.

Basically we have two stories, one playing out in the public arena and the other in the intensely private.

College coed Rhoda (Brit Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay with the director) is driving home drunk from a party when a radio news broadcast grabs her attention. Astronomers have discovered another planet in our solar system, and if you look real hard you can see it twinkling in the night sky.

Taking her eyes off the road, Rhoda begins searching the heavens…and plows into a car, killing a woman and child and seriously injuring their husband/father.

Several years later Rhoda is released from prison and returns to her parents and brother, who stubbornly refuse to mention her crime. 

But it’s pretty obvious that Rhoda is wracked with guilt. She wraps herself in a shapeless hoodie that hides her features and moves like a wraith through her oceanside town.

She expresses only mild interest in the new planet that contributed to her dilemma — it has moved close enough to eclipse our moon and, incredibly enough, appears to be an exact twin of Earth, right down to every continent, mountain and shoreline.

Rhoda is far more interested in John (William Mapother), the surviving victim of her accident. The former music professor has dropped out and now lives in bachelor squalor in a ramshackle farmhouse, drinking his way into oblivion.

Rhoda poses as an employee of a cleaning service so as to observe her fellow sufferer. John has no idea who his cleaning lady is; Rhoda was a minor when the accident occurred and her identity was never made public.

Little by little she strikes up a friendship with John. It starts to look very much like love.

But of course there’s that little issue of a shared past he knows nothing about. How will John react when he knows just who Rhoda really is?

One of the film’s wonderful bombshells comes when a lady NASA scientist sends out a voice message to the new planet…and ends up talking to another version of herself who’s a NASA scientist on what’s been dubbed Earth 2.

So for every person on Earth there’s a duplicate on Earth 2? But if that’s so, do they have exactly the same history, or at some point do these parallel lives diverge?

More to the point, is it possible that the John on Earth 2 has never lost his family?

“Another Earth’s” basic human setup has been employed by numerous films, but Mapother and Marling turn in performances of such low-keyed believability as to make most movie acting look like Ham Central.

Especially stunning is Marling, an actress with malleable features that can convey everything from ravishing beauty to unremarkable blandness. This is a performance that screams MAJOR STAR.

Approached with an ultra-realistic point of view, “Another Earth”  may not work for you. The gravitational pull of Earth 2 would clearly cause major changes in ocean tides and weather patterns, neither of which are addressed in the film.

Nor is the question of whether the two worlds are on a collision course.

That’s because Earth 2 is a metaphor, silly. Stop acting like a scientist and get into the very human story at the film’s core.

Though the images of another Earth hovering in our blue sky are haunting, this isn't a special effects movie. It needn't be. In their quietly devastating way, Cahill, Marling and Mapother provide all the fireworks a movie will ever need.

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