Another Earth (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
The day another planet, believed to be very similar to Earth, is discovered, Rhoda (Brit Marling), a high school student who recently received an offer to attend MIT, crashed onto another vehicle and killed three people: a little boy and a woman with child. The head of the family, a music composer and Yale professor named John (William Mapother), survives but has fallen into a coma. After four years in jail, Rhoda is released and must now try to continue a life that had been on pause.
“Another Earth,” directed by Mike Cahill, is a fascinating story about a woman in need of forgiveness—from herself as well as the man whose life she had inadvertently destroyed. The film offers a solid exposition and rising action, especially when it teases the audience about the possibilities that lie in the newly discovered planet, but when it is time to get into the marrow of the story, that is, the relationship between Rhoda and John, it comes across like a suffocating drama, composed of close-ups, depression, and repetitive behavior. The human drama is not as compelling as the symbolism that revolves around its two main characters.
The decision to minimize the science fiction elements feels exactly right. By keeping the visuals simple and ordinary, Rhoda’s inner turmoil is all the more relatable. Imagine if the story had taken place in a distant future with flying cars, metallic clothing, and wacky hairdos. These elements would have likely distracted from the depression that the protagonist is going through. Because the images are often without adornment, sometimes dirty and gray, her state of mind is consistently reflected. We get the feeling that she wants to escape from herself.
It is most critical that we understand this because eventually her ambition is to see what lies on Earth 2. On one hand, we, too, are curious what might be out there. On the other hand, reaching that goal is perhaps a way for her to be able to move on from the tragedy and start living. Yes, she killed people and was incarcerated. But this young woman, like anyone who has made a mistake, deserves a second chance. We sympathize with her because she doesn’t act as though she deserves forgiveness. She is focused on how to fix the broken, reflected by her decision to clean after high school students.
Rhoda and John are not interesting together—which is a problem because these are two bodies in orbit who have pasts that haunt them so severely, each passing day blends to the next. The script ought to have been razor-sharp, insightful, surprising, ironic—pretty much anything other than flat, dull, mumbling. The latter third is most disappointing because instead of really working through their inner-most thoughts and emotions once all the facts are laid out on the table, we get a “four months later” title card. I found it lazy and underwhelming. A smart final scene fails to make up for it.
Written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling, “Another Earth” is elegant and beautiful at times but the final thirty minutes ought to have been stronger in order to make a lasting impression. One of the movie’s best scenes involves a woman on television trying to establish contact with beings on Earth 2. The voice that we hear from the transmission is quite unexpected. It is unfortunate that the final third has grown tired, has lost its ability to genuinely surprise.