“Another Earth” (2011). Cast: Brit Marling, William Mapother, Kumar Pallana, Jordan Baker, Flint Beverage, Robin Lord Taylor, Diane Ciesla, Meggan Lennon, DJ Flava. Director: Mike Cahill. Screenplay: Brit Marling and Mike Cahill. www.foxsearchlight.com/anotherearth/
Coming face to face with ourselves can be a difficult, but eye-opening, experience. It can help us to see who we really are, where we need to make changes in our lives and what we should consider doing to overcome the self-imposed blockages holding us in place. Such is the opportunity offered up to the protagonists in the new sci-fi fantasy, “Another Earth.”
“Another Earth” is an unusual film, to say the least. Essentially, it’s a conventional human drama that takes place during an extraordinary cosmological event. This fusion of diverse narratives makes for intriguing viewing, adding a level of depth to the principal story line that would have been lacking had it not been for its unique backdrop.
Gifted high school student Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is thrilled when she’s accepted into the MIT astronomy program. The good news prompts her to celebrate with friends, a festive evening that carries on well into the night. Regrettably, however, while driving home, Rhoda’s overindulgence lands her in a fatal head-on collision, killing all but one of the passengers of the other vehicle—and leaving a young family shattered.
Rhoda pays for her crimes by spending the next four years in prison. When she’s released, however, she’s still consumed with guilt about her actions (not to mention distraught that her once-grand plans appear permanently dashed). She struggles to find a new path for herself, but her biggest concern is trying to find a way to make amends with the man whose life she destroyed, the accident’s sole survivor (William Mapother), a brilliant composer who’s been left physically and emotionally debilitated by the tragedy.
As Rhoda’s odyssey plays out, however, a larger story unfolds. On the night of the accident (ironically enough), astronomers announce that a new Earth-like planet has been found. Even though the newly discovered world (dubbed Earth 2) is relatively nearby in the galactic neighborhood, it initially appears as a tiny blue dot in the sky, barely visible to the naked eye. Needless to say, the world wonders what this find portends, raising all kinds of speculation, among everyone from scientists to media personalities to conspiracy theorists, about the nature of the new planet. It even leads to the launch of a private space venture that plans to shuttle adventurous vacationers to the new world, with one of the seats reserved for the winner of an essay contest that asks entrants why they would like to visit the new neighbor in the sky.
By the time of Rhoda’s release from prison, Earth 2 has moved considerably closer, so much so that it’s now clearly visible, both day and night, as a huge azure orb in the sky. This close proximity brings an end to much of the speculation about its nature, too; when a SETI scientist (Diane Ciesla) makes contact with the planet, she learns that it appears to be Earth’s twin in virtually every respect, including its land masses, its climate and, most importantly, its inhabitants. This revelation subsequently raises all kinds of questions, most notably those about how we might react if we were to meet our Earth 2 doppelgangers. Would our counterparts be truly identical? And, if so, would we be able to handle coming face to face with “ourselves?”
When Rhoda’s story and this larger narrative cross paths, the implications become intriguing, especially when she decides to enter the essay contest. Would winning it allow her to start over on a new world? Or would she have to confront her circumstances by facing her counterpart self—literally? The practical and metaphysical considerations involved in this are staggering to contemplate, let alone live out, but that’s precisely what lies ahead for all concerned.
Followers of a variety of spiritual and philosophical disciplines maintain that the world around us is an outward reflection of our inner beliefs, that it mirrors back to us what we’re inwardly concentrating upon. Through the scenario set up in this film, the appearance of Earth 2 portrays that notion both literally and as a powerful cinematic metaphor of the concept, resulting in a sort of luscious metaphysical double entendre. A manifestation like this thus shows how it’s indeed possible for projections of our consciousness to materialize in physical form, undeniably depicting the principles of philosophies like conscious creation and the law of attraction in action.
Of course, in a situation like this, one can’t help but wonder, if we were to meet our mirror selves, would we be the same afterward? For some, the experience itself might be too painful or overwhelming to envisage. For others, it may well provide the positive validation they’re looking for to confirm that they’re on the right life path. And, for others still, such an encounter could evoke the much-needed catalyst for bringing about essential change. It’s just the sort of impetus that could help Rhoda chart a new path for herself, particularly when it comes to issues like forgiving herself for her past, a lesson many of us could learn from.
Because of its unusual fusion of narratives, “Another Earth” must walk a fine line between drama and science fiction to make its story work, an ambitious undertaking for sure. But the film succeeds well on this score, never letting either aspect dominate at the expense of the other, integrating them so seamlessly that the picture always comes across as believable, never forced, implausible or unbalanced. It routinely relies on images, rather than words, to carry the story, effectively showing, rather than telling, viewers what it wants to say, an approach that’s more powerful than just spelling things out through dialogue or narration. As a low-budget production, the film definitely got considerable bang for its buck in the area of special effects, its images depicting Earth and its twin with surprisingly stunning visuals.
The performances are all capable, despite an occasional tendency toward over-emoting in some dialogue-free sequences. The screenplay is well put together, too, although a subplot involving one of Rhoda’s post-prison co-workers (Kumar Pallana) could have stood some further development. All in all, though, the movie’s strengths more than compensate for these minor shortcomings.
As one of the film’s characters (and its marketing materials) ask rhetorically, “If you could meet your other you, what would you say?” That’s a question we’d all be wise to consider, even if only hypothetically, for it just might provide us with some valuable insight into creating another Earth for ourselves, one that truly benefits us all.
Copyright © 2011, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.