Evoking the likes of Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca and Duncan Jones’ Moon, Another Earth is an ambitious, if flawed, film that favours the up-close-and-personal human experience over fully exploring its daunting premise.
(Mild spoilers in the next paragraph)
It follows Rhoda (Brit Marling), a teenager who drunkenly crashes into a car one night after a party, leaving only one survivor. On the same day, Earth’s population discovers that there is a planet seemingly identical to our own not very far away, inhabited by an alternate versions of every person on our home planet. Four years later when she’s just released from prison for her earlier crime, Rhoda attempts to make amends with John (William Mapother), the survivor of the car crash who is grieving for the loss of his family. All the while, Earth gets closer to making contact, and even travelling to the newly discovered planet.
Although technically Another Earth can be lumped into the sci-fi category, it is only barely so. Despite its blatantly science fiction premise, writer/director Mark Cahill and star Marling (who co-wrote the script with him) seem to purposefully avoid dealing directly with it. Sure, Rhoda enters a competition to win a trip to “Earth 2,” but this seems like a peripheral add-on in a way, a hint at what is going on in the grander scheme of things, instead focusing on the small, the personal, the intimate. This makes for an odd tone that works for the most part, even if you do frustratingly wish that the film dove into the deep end of its science fiction ideas instead of just dipping its toe.
What makes the film work, is Marling’s performance. Subtle yet evocative, she has a powerful way of drawing you in and making you unable to keep your eyes off her. Rhoda’s growing relationship with John never feels forced or contrived but rather natural and completely convincing. This is helped a lot by Mapother, an actor we don’t see enough of in more central roles like this. Through this relationship the film examines issues of loss, grief and regret while at the same time its over-arching other-worldly concept explores curiosity, longing and personal identity. For the most part the film pulls off bringing together its imaginative ideas and real life issues with aplomb, building towards a poignant and memorable conclusion.
Although it feels like this could have been a lot more significant and important if it had fully committed to its science fiction premise (wishing that we actually got to see Earth 2 will be a common response), Another Earth is still an admirably ambitious film that’s at least making an attempt to be something unique when so many films are by-the-numbers. A haunting film with big ideas on a small-scale.