The indie sci-fi drama ANOTHER EARTH is far less about the trappings and effects of the science fiction genre and a lot more about the philosophical possibilities inherent in the extraordinary notion of a parallel Earth.
The detection of a new planet in our solar system inextricably links the fates of 17-year-old Rhoda Williams, who has just been accepted into MIT, and John Burroughs (William Mapother of Lost), a former college professor and composer. A tragic accident on the night the discovery is announced results in John losing his wife, their young son and their unborn daughter. Rhoda, although a minor whose identity is not made public, will spend the next four years not in college but in prison.
The new planet, dubbed "Earth 2," looms large in the sky upon Rhoda's release. Still weighed down by guilt and despair, she moves back into her parents' house but forsakes her childhood bedroom for a tiny attic space with only a window, a lamp, a mat on the floor, and a poster of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula taped to the sloped ceiling.
Rhoda takes a janitorial job at her old high school while the news buzzes with the revelation that Earth 2 is in fact an exact replica of our Earth, apparently peopled by other versions of ourselves. A billionaire adventurer is underwriting a trip to the doppelganger planet. An essay contest will determine which single ordinary passenger makes the trip.
On the anniversary of the accident, Rhoda and John Burroughs' paths cross once more. While she returns on foot to revisit the scene of the tragedy, John pulls up to place a toy in memory of his son at the base of a light pole there. She becomes obsessed with him and the notion of apologizing for her part in his family's deaths. With that intent, one night she finds where he lives. Unable to follow through, she tries but fails to kill herself.
Following her recovery, she remains determined to confess her burden to the one living victim of her teenaged recklessness. She returns to his house, but once more unable to reveal herself concocts an extemporaneous lie that she is from a cleaning company looking to expand its base. She is unprepared when John roughly agrees to a trial cleaning.
Crippled by headaches caused by the accident, closed off in a morass of grief and memories exacerbated by drink, John begins to open up to life once more. Rhoda becomes a regular fixture at his house, cleaning, doing laundry, even cooking for John--and he still doesn't know the truth of who she is. When the Earth 2 space flight contest winner is announced, a confession and confrontation become inevitable. Rhoda must choose whether to stay, fly away, or redeem herself by giving up her own dream in reparation.
The atmospheric sound and picture of the film - including a haunting melody played on a saw and the often harsh bluish cast suggestive of some hyperreality - immerse viewers in the question of what we would do if we met ourselves, and in the human need to know that we are not alone.
First-time director Mike Cahill and star Brit Marling (who calls to mind a taller, more Teutonic Juliette Binoche) co-wrote and co-produced ANOTHER EARTH with micronic financing. The by-the-seat-of-the-pants story of the film's making (via the bonus features "Creating Another Earth" and the Fox Movie Channel presents triad of "Direct Effect with Mike Cahill," "In Character with Brit Marling," and "In Character with William Mapother") alone is worth the price of admission to the 2011 Sundance winner, especially for festival fans and film students.
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