On paper, Brit Marling’s Another Earth has an intriguing premise revolving around the possibility of another Earth-like planet suddenly appearing in our sky. This planet is easily within communication distance to our own home world, and the possibilities for a high-concept, low-budget sci-fi film seem endless. Sadly, the film merely implies a lot of squandered potential, a fact that becomes more and more apparent as the film reaches its bizarre and unsatisfying conclusion.
Another Earth follows a girl named Rhoda who one day finds herself in a traumatizing accident with a car carrying a family of four. The crash kills three family members and puts the last, a music professor, into a coma. Consequently, Rhoda is thrown in jail and serves a multi-year sentence. Upon her release, she learns that the professor has woken from his coma and goes to try and reconcile with him. He doesn’t recognize her or her name, and an unlikely relationship blossoms between the two. Oh, and there’s some other planet that just appeared in the night sky that resembles Earth, or something.
Sound like a cerebral sci-fi film? No? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.
Brit Marling gives a fairly solid but strangely dispassionate performance as protagonist Rhoda Williams. Marling was also the screenwriter for Another Earth, and I got the distinct feeling as the movie progressed that she had a very specific image in her head of how her story would look on-screen. Of course, since she was not directing the film, her performance felt disconnected from how the events were ultimately portrayed. I don’t know if this is an accurate assumption, but that was the impression I got. William Mapother is passable as John Burroughs, the man whom Rhoda feels indebted to for her role in the accident that killed his family, but his emotional peaks and troughs feel strained and unconvincing.
As Mike Cahill’s directorial debut, the film is understandably held back by his lack of experience. One of the most obvious offenses is the use of incredibly obvious symbolism, such as placing Rhoda next to a sign that says “No Animals Allowed.” Overused clichés, like a guy in a tinfoil hat, also appear periodically in Another Earth. Both of these pitfalls that detract from the film’s apparently deeper philosophical aspirations. Moreover, the progression of events, while paced fairly well, don’t flow together as organically as I might have liked in a drama. Events frequently happen illogically or without clear reasons, making them difficult to believe and therefore breaking the audience’s immersion.
Dialogue is problematic, but this time it isn’t because of its glibness or sparseness. Rather, Marling elected to write in random and often unnecessary exposition to be spouted by nearly every character we meet. Most infuriatingly, a brief series of ephemeral interactions which Rhoda has with a coworker climax in what is supposed to be one of the most pivotal scenes in Another Earth. However, due to a total lack of emotional investment in our protagonist and this random side character, their ruminations about life and how the world works fall on deaf ears. This causes the apex of Rhoda’s character development to fall totally flat. I would have much preferred a show-don’t-tell approach that got across what points Marling was trying to make. Instead, we get long speeches about things that seem irrelevant both to the drama at hand, and to the Earth 2 plot line that is constantly taking backseat to Rhoda and John’s romance.
Aesthetically, Another Earth takes on a distractingly washed-out look for most of the film. In addition, some odd editing choices and strange zooms and cuts make the cinematography have a distinct but altogether jumbled feel. However, if there are any truly shining moments in Another Earth, it’s the beautiful scenic shots of Rhoda gazing up at Earth 2 – I just wish they had some fleshed out that part of the story to give those scenes more meaningful context.
By the end of the movie, you will likely feel cheated by the decision Marling made to focus the film so much on the relationship between Rhoda and John, as opposed to the incredibly fascinating sci-fi concept of another earth. Sadly, this holds back the film more than any acting, editing, or directorial nitpicks I could make. What could have been an interesting, unique sci-fi film with a heavily dramatic core (like the wonderful 2009 film Moon), ends up being an unengaging, somewhat creepy romance story. The only real reason to see this film is to see Brit Marling’s work both on-screen and off (in case she does catapult into mainstream stardom sometime soon), and so that you can acknowledge it for the failed experiment that it is.
Verdict: Movie Meh
A Note on the Premise – I really did feel the sci-fi premise was underutilized. A whole other planet that in fact matches our own in every possible way raises so many questions. If you have a duplicate person on this “other Earth” who does everything you do, do you really have free will? If we can observe the silliness and illogical nature of the wars and other conflicts we wage from a bird’s eye view, might we decide to end our bickering on our own planet and make an effort toward world peace? And by making contact with this other planet, are we disrupting the careful balance between our two worlds? Unfortunately, Another Earth is not the film to even ask these questions, let alone answer them. A real shame.
A Note on the Ending – What the **** is up with that last scene? Unless I totally missed something, or unless it’s some sort of metaphor, it made no sense whatsoever. I hate endings that make no sense.