Another Earth

“Another Earth” is an ingenious mix between indie drama and sci-fi that explores the many depths of a very simple concept: If you could meet yourself, what would you say?

Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a bright teenager about to head off to college until she causes a drunk driving accident when a report on the radio distracts her. A planet like ours that could sustain life is very close to Earth and is visible in the sky. She looks for too long and kills the wife and child of John Burroughs (William Mapother).

Four years later after her prison stint, the world has changed significantly. The planet thought to sustain life looks near identical to Earth and is even larger than the Moon in the night sky. We call it “Earth 2,” naturally, implying we’re “Earth 1.” Scientists eventually contact the planet and in a simple scene has a gigantic, exciting twist that made me leap out of my seat and say “WOAH!”

The people on “Earth 2” are identical to us. They’ve lived the same lives, met the same friends and made the same choices. They’re us, but they’re not.

Immediately the movie asks existential questions, but the important thing is that the movie considers all these themes secondary to the strong character drama at the center. Most sci-fis are wrapped in their science, but here we get an understandable depiction of human nature. We discover new places and ideas, but our tendencies and our perspective on the world don’t change.

John is now living in squalor. He’s given up on his job and his life. Rhoda too is virtually broken, and in a desperate move for understanding, tracks down John to confess she was the one responsible for his family’s death. But upon seeing him, she can’t bring herself to do it and poses as a maid offering a free trial service. She helps clean up his home and the two proceed to repair each other’s lives.

Mike Cahill’s film is exactly how intimate character dramas should look and feel. The movie indulges in artful staging, handheld camera close-ups and philosophical themes told simply in voiceover monologue. But “Another Earth” earns all of its gravity and self-importance. Rhoda and John share deep, important conversations about love, human nature and the paradoxes of the story.

If Earth 2 is an exact mirror and you tried to meet yourself, wouldn’t your duplicate do the same? What “Another Earth” points out is that we’re always looking at ourselves, but from within. Sometimes it takes someone externally to hold up a mirror so we can ask what we’re doing with our lives.

“Another Earth” is all about big ideas and big moments. And yet for such big emotions and truths to come out of a film with a simple idea, from small, understated performances and from a movie that doesn’t overdo style or visuals is no small feat indeed.

4 stars

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