Another Earth is a small story of a girl entering her 20s (Rhoda, Brit Marling) who adores the idea of space, but accidentally drives into another car, killing a mother and child, when a distracting mirror-Earth appears in the distant sky. What follows is an unusual but touching tale of grounded, what-if imagination.
Another Earth, which cost just $150,000, deserves a look in just to see how the out-there idea is explored – the sight of an identical Earth near to the Moon is stunning - but it then grabs attention for the delicate way it chooses to tell its human, not science fiction story.
Written by actress Brit Marling – as she wanted to write her own role - as well as director Mark Cahill, the concept of Another Earth is that an identical, mirrored planet to our own has been hiding behind the sun, and comes into view one day. As it moves closer and closer to Earth, the world discovers that “Earth Two” it is almost exactly like our own, with the same people trying to discover what is on Earth “One”. However this concept is the wallpaper, and not the main narrative of the film. For bundled into this existentialist ideal, Another Earth follows Rhoda four years after the accident – Earth Two now right in the sky – as she tries to rebuild her life after the trauma of ruining a young family.
And in this context, life keeps going on as the powers that be investigate the new “Earth” and the media keep people informed.
Moving forward four years, we discover that Rhoda has abruptly halted her life amid guilt-ridden angst – and aspired to just be a cleaner in a school. However her mindset is jolted one day by the announcement of a competition to win a place on the first shuttle to Earth Two. It is something she would adore, but she would have to write an essay on why she deserves to go. Given the accident – and the fact that the arrival Earth Two was part of the cause - Rhoda faces the fact that she would be an unlikely candidate, and explains as much in her essay.
Her guilt re-awakened, she visits the widower (John, William Mapother) of the accident to apologise, but is unable to do it in the moment. Instead she ends up offering him cleaning services – which he badly needs having fallen apart – and he begrudgingly accepts.
As the relationship between John and Rhoda develops, the day of individual contact with Earth Two approaches. A romance blooms, but their opposite views of the dangers of travelling into space – John sees only the risk, Rhoda sees only the wonder - ends up dividing what only has just begun.
There is nothing unexpected in the story of Another Earth – in fact the love story is fairly predictable. However the way in which Cahill and Marling annotate the story with touching moments of human contact – such as Marling’s friendship with her blind school maintenance co-worker - is delicately connected to its themes of redemption and searching for identity in a chaotic universe. Additionally Cahill’s choice to film with a free camera not only keeps the budget down, it also maintains a closeness in its style that enhances the touching feel, as does its unassuming score.
The end result is a little gem of a science-fiction drama. Another Earth may be high concept, but it is like a simpler, scruffier cousin of Donnie Darko and in a similar vein to Monsters. And while the concept is beautiful in its execution, it never takes too much of the focus or too little, letting the human story carry the story through.