“What would you say if you met another you?”
“Better luck next time.”
On the night she is accepted to MIT, scientists announce the discovery of another planet capable of sustaining life. Exuberant, and drunk, the young woman causes a DUI-fatality car crash. Her life is thrown irrevocably off course. She emerges from prison four years later, facing a life branded as a felon and burdened with a relentless guilt. When she’s offered a chance to visit what is now being referred to as Earth 2, will she be able to start over, fresh?
I first saw this film years ago and was immediately struck by actress Brit Marling’s easy, sensitive performance as Rhoda. She presents a girl who has everything: looks, brains, a good family, opportunity, and, what’s more, a bright future. Despite all of it, she gets behind the wheel and drives drunk. In a split second, as she listens to a radio broadcast reporting the discovery of a second Earth-like planet, she becomes a murderer – colliding head-on with another vehicle.
It is so elegantly captured, the sense of immortality bestowed upon the young, that when Rhoda stumbles free from her car in the moments after the crash, you can almost see the immediate change in the character. It’s the moment when everything becomes real and there’s no where to run.
When Rhoda is released four years later, she turns to manual labor; to be gainfully employed is required, but even with a sharp intellect, the decision to seek manual labor is a kind of punishment Rhoda pushes onto herself. Convicted at the age of 17, with her court records sealed, its Rhoda’s guilt that is to be her true sentence.
Even as Rhoda seeks out the sole survivor of that night’s car accident, a composer named John (Mathopher), she isn’t truly prepared to be forgiven. When she finds John living in his own filth, alone and perpetually drunk, Rhoda loses her nerve to confess her true identity. Seeing a way to somehow make his life a little easier, she begins cleaning his house for free. As the two become closer, Rhoda realizes there can be no future without the truth.
As the first feature film Marling co-wrote, Another Earth began as a question – what would it be like if there were another you, a duplicate, and you were confronted with them? Marling and Cahill spent a year developing the concept, making it larger in scale until the idea of having another Earth emerged.
The concept is endlessly fascinating. In the milieu of Another Earth, everything between Earth and Earth 2 had been synchronized until the moment of discovery. That act of seeing oneself in the mirror breaks the reflection, breaks the connection. From that moment on, in this case the discovery occurs on the night of Rhoda’s accident, life on the planets began to differ.
It’s a terrific, if straight forward, allegory about the long term ramifications of our actions; that one moment, one slip could forever alter our lives.
Rhoda is a complicated blend of caged talent and broken dreams. Her attraction to John, whom her recklessness has cost a wife, a son, and an unborn daughter, is simultaneously disturbing and expected. It creates a compelling emotional dilemma from which Rhoda can’t escape – even if she leaves the planet.
William Mapother, who agreed to participate in the project for $100 a day, is reserved and powerfully fractured in the role of John. Despite being in the film for a few select scenes, his character is pivotal and Mapother delivers his scenes with Marling effectively, creating a mostly realized portrait of a broken man.
That the film’s science fiction aspects are secondary to the plot may leave genre fans feeling a little disappointed. For a film that waxes incessantly about the galaxy and its infinite possibilities, we never leave Earth.
My only real gripe about the film is the director’s handling of shot framing and a too-frequent use of hand held cameras when there is no clear reason or benefit for the vantage or effect.
What I love about Another Earth is that, like the tiny blue speck in the sky that four years later is a fully visible planet, things that once appeared small and unimportant have a way of changing shape.
Marling is one to watch, both as a writer and a performer.
Making of Featurette:
Interview with Brit Marling:
Official site: Another Earth
Wiki: Another Earth