Directed by Mike Cahill. Starring Brit Marling, William Mapother, Kumar Pallana. (2011, PG-13, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 5, 2011
Shaky science fiction shacks up with a corny redemption tale in this Sundance Film Festival double award-winner. What emerges is a film with a potent signature image, a swirl of half-baked ideas about the possibility of second chances, and a career-making turn by star Brit Marling (who also co-wrote Another Earth with director Mike Cahill and has a producing credit). Marling plays Rhoda Williams, a bright 17-year-old who has just been accepted into the astrophysics program at MIT. While driving home after celebrating heartily, she hears the news on the radio that a new planet has been discovered hovering close to Earth. Craning her drunken noggin out the window to catch a look at the orb, she crashes into another car that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wreck destroys the family within: The driver, a music composer named John Burroughs (Mapother), is left in a coma, and his son and pregnant wife are killed instantly. Following this preamble, the film cuts to four years later as Rhoda is released from prison. Earth 2, as the new planet has been dubbed, still looms on the horizon (a very haunting image), and the media is engaged in a nonstop barrage of blather about Earth 2’s parallel universe that contains a double for every person on Earth. A rich entrepreneur hosts an essay contest that will reward the winner with a seat on the first trip to the new planet. Rhoda takes a dreary job as a school janitor but is still obsessed with Earth 2. Eventually, she goes to visit Burroughs, who has grown dissolute and shabby in the intervening years. Disguising her identity as a cleaning woman on spec, she enters and tidies his domestic sphere and rekindles his emotional sphere. He, of course, has no clue regarding her true identity until a plot contrivance forces her to spill the truth. The ideas of the duplicate planet and the attempt to fix the past open up possibilities for redemption – or, at least, alternate realities. Most of these themes lie flat on the film’s surface, however. Any probing leads to more complicated questions that Another Earth never begins to address. The science fiction is not credible and the dramatic arc is preposterous. Apart from the unearthly image of the extra planet looming just beyond reach, the look of the film is grainy and underlit. Extensive handheld camerawork amplifies the film’s rough gloom, although blond Marling appears to dwell on a lone astral plane. (Marling stars in and co-wrote another Sundance and SXSW favorite, Sound of My Voice, which also has a story based on intriguing celestial hokum.) Perhaps there’s another me on Earth 2 writing a rave of Another Planet, but until my doppelgänger steps forth, this review remains my final word.