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Another Earth - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Another Earth
Directing: B+
Acting: C
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

There is a sizable minority of people who are totally baffled as to how Another Earth won prizes at the Sundance Film Festival, what with its overwrought themes and blatant disregard for literal applications of the laws of physics. A strong case could be made, however, that these people are willfully missing the point.

Yes, a duplicate Earth is discovered in the solar system -- one so close that it looms bright in the sky, complete with its own moon. There are many shots of this, as though "Earth 2" -- as the characters come to calling it -- simply replaces what would otherwise have been our own moon in the sky. Our moon is never seen, actually; only the apparently duplicate moon orbiting Earth 2.

How the hell such a thing could have either existed for as long as we have, or could have just appeared out of thin air (or, I suppose, thin space), is never explained, and no one attempts to. Director and co-writer Mike Cahill keeps the production budget (but not necessarily the production values) low, which means that nearly all information about this scientific anomaly is revealed to the core characters via radio and television broadcasts.

In one particularly eerie scene, a family is sitting in their living room, watching live coverage of "first contact" with the other Earth. A woman representative of SETI is sitting at a microphone, trying to initiate a conversation as though she were a kid using a CB on the freeway. It's already been established that this other Earth is not just another life-sustaining planet, but an exact replica of our Earth. It's only at this moment that we discover that Earth 2 has its own replicas of every living citizen as well: the person contacted on the other line is the same woman, with the same name, working for SETI, also trying to establish contact. But instead of doing and saying the same things at the same time, they still apparently have thoughts and actions independent of each other. They reveal an identical past, share identical memories. Now their shared experience is connected but not quite identical, like twins or clones looking at each other instead of in a mirror.

The young adult daughter in the family in this living room is Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), our main character. The initial discovery of the other Earth is what precluded the tragedy in her life: driving while intoxicated, listening to a guy on the radio contemplating this planet that can now be seen in our sky, she looks out her window, and keeps looking -- until she smashes head-on into a car parked at an intersection, killing a young child and a pregnant woman inside, but not the man driving.

Rhoda has been in prison for four years and just been released. She is racked with guilt. She goes to the home of the man whose family she killed, John Burroughs (William Mapother), intending to apologize, and then loses her nerve and offers a free trial cleaning service. John accepts, and then agrees to pay her to come and clean once a week (the checks for which Rhoda tears up).

And thus develops a relationship between Rhoda, the convicted felon, and John, the man whose family he doesn't know she killed. This is the primary focus of the story, with all of the stuff about "Earth 2" serving as a backdrop. Rhoda submits a rather improbable 500-word "essay" on a website form to enter in a contest for a seat on a shuttle to the other planet. She is consumed by thoughts of whether her counterpart on "Earth 2" is living a life that is the same or different. She looks at it through John's telescope and says, "I wonder if I'm cleaning your house."

This duplicate Earth, with its mirror people, is clearly intended as a metaphor, albeit a ham-handed one that never offers any clear indication of precisely what it's a metaphor for. There is an air of self-importance to the proceedings that works against the film, which veers dangerously close to the obtuse.

Brit Marling as Rhoda is broadly compelling, if a bit lacking in nuance. William Mapother is a clear amateur to the point that one wonders how he got cast. His delivery never rings true, always sounding like someone trying to act rather than someone acting natural.

The lines he has to deliver aren't always much help, as the uneven script is filled with lines that themselves somehow barely fall short of sounding right. The way "scientists" talk about the other Earth on TV, the way the DJ ruminates about it -- it all sounds just slightly contrived.

And yet, somehow, Another Earth is still absorbing, with its nearly hypnotic music by Fall On Your Sword, its steady and often dream-like pacing, and its unforgettable (if impossible) imagery. The more Another Earth goes on, the less important the seemingly misguided scientific details seem, and the more intriguing it becomes.

And then a semi-twist comes along that creates the biggest hole in the story of all, which I can't reveal here without giving away the ending. Suffice it to say that it takes the leap from merely factually unrealistic to fictionally unsound, with practical considerations, even for characters in this fully invented world, completely ignored. And yet, the final shot still provides much to ponder, leaving one with an inability to make an immediate assessment of the film overall.

In the end, Another Earth is starkly flawed yet curiously engaging, barely saved from implosion by its bevy of provocative concepts, however haphazardly they might be applied.

Brit Marling ponders a mirror world in 'Another Earth'.

Overall: B-
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