Another earth, another you – this sci-fi concept provides an intriguing premise, but what’s more compelling here perhaps is the story of Rhoda Williams. “Another Earth” begins on a vibrant note. Over an awe-inspiring photo montage of the planet Jupiter, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is heard explaining how her astronomical fascination was born. We momentarily glimpse into her life in the first few opening minutes and see a young and carefree person dancing around and celebrating her acceptance into MIT’s astrophysics program. Rhoda’s hopes of becoming an astrophysicist, however, are thwarted when her fascination leads to a horrible tragedy. MIT-bound Rhoda runs into another vehicle while drunk driving and ends up killing two people.
Next we see Rhoda four years later as she is released from prison. She is not the same person we saw onscreen a few minutes ago. Her timid and withdrawn demeanor suggests an existence plagued by guilt. Following a series of events, she winds up at the doorstep of the family she inadvertently destroyed. She means to apologize to the man who lost his wife and son to the accident in which he survived. A very troubling situation unfolds as she grows closer to this man in the wake of her inability to tell him the truth.
Rhoda’s story juxtaposed against the discovery of a duplicate earth sounds poetic in theory, but there are some glitches in the execution that render this interesting duality somewhat ineffective. One factor directly responsible for this is the underuse of the core concept itself. The existence of another earth is established in the beginning of the film and is heavily featured towards the ending, but it is scarcely touched upon in between. Therefore, “Another Earth” is hardly the sci-fi galore that some of its marketing choices led us to believe. It is a simple story of loss and how it can affect two parties at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
First-time feature film director Mike Cahill succeeds in making “Another Earth” look like the work of a more experienced filmmaker. The film is visually breathtaking. The peculiar placing of mechanical sound effects, the elusive shots that imply but never assert, and the stunning image of Earth 2 against the blue backdrop of our own earth’s sky stand as testaments to Cahill’s gift for filmmaking. Furthermore, I want to applaud him for choosing to make Earth 2 appear as big as it does because that makes it seem like the other Earth is very close, which in turn makes it stand out as the beautiful imposition that it is.
Cahill’s accomplishments in the storytelling front are a little less commendable. The film has a lackluster second act which could have used some more editing or could have been written entirely different. Sometimes the beautiful imageries themselves pose as distractions from the actual story as Cahill relies on visuals too much. The dialogue is good but gives off a sense of being unpolished. Cahill and Marling co-wrote and co-produced “Another Earth,” but the film doesn’t necessarily come off as the work of a couple of amateurs. It sure does, however, look like a couple of experienced filmmakers who hastily decided to film the first draft of their new screenplay.
Marling is an absolute revelation as the redemption seeking Rhoda Williams. Rhoda is a character who does not speak a lot, but even without words Marling manages to add a lot of depth and maturity to her role. William Mapother plays the man who survived the accident Rhoda caused, and he does an adequate job portraying a man who has lost everything. The two share a natural chemistry which added a sense of authenticity to their awkward and difficult pairing.
“Another Earth” is a beautiful mood piece that considers life in light of its many tragedies. Sometimes it feels like the sci-fi idea of “Another Earth” was added merely for the purpose of adding another layer to the story or for making more of what the situation really is by throwing in deep, philosophical quandaries in the mix. Nevertheless, this film is more of a success than a failure.