Friday, November 11, 2011

Another Earth (2011)

At a glance:
Sci-fi elements combine with a story of grief in this intriguing, intellectual drama/thriller

Our review (with spoilers):
Rhoda (Brit Marling) is a sharp young woman who has just been accepted into MIT. Her whole brilliant life is in front of her. She is driving home drunk from her celebration party when she hears, on the car radio, that a new ‘blue’ planet has been discovered. As she gazes up at the sky, she crosses the road and hits another car. The occupants are Yale professor John Burroughs (William Mapother), who ends up in a coma, and his wife and child, who die. Four years later, Rhoda emerges from incarceration, a quiet and severely damaged woman. Conversely, the blue planet has thrived in the interim; it appears to be frighteningly similar to Earth in topology, and when voice contact is made, it seems that the planet is a mirror image, including duplicates of the people. Rhoda dreams of escaping to this planet on one of the manned flights that are being planned. At the same time, she tracks down the professor. Her attempt to say who she is and to apologize is botched, and instead she begins cleaning his house, slowly improving his hygiene and his level of squalor.

The core idea has been used many times before – that of the infiltrator who ‘stalks’ someone with hidden knowledge about how they are connected. But Another Earth uniquely blends drama and thriller with a dash of sci-fi in ways that perhaps have never been mixed and mashed before.

The two leads are excellent. Marling makes the intellectuality of her character believable – and that is such an important element of the story. Mapother has an undercurrent of unpredictability in the way he carries himself – Lost fans will remember how his character Ethan combined congeniality with menace in the early episodes of that series. Here, his character is different but just as effective.

Director Mike Cahill (who co-wrote with Marling) turns a small budget into a beautiful film. It has its own pace as we wade through grief, but the moments of power are effective. One minor distraction was the overuse of crash zoom, although, in a sense, this effect fits well in a sci-fi themed movie; it reminded me of the fight scenes from the Battlestar Galactica reimagining.

Major spoiler alert – do not read this unless you have already seen the film! The last scene in the film features Rhoda’s double, newly arrived from the mirror planet. What does this mean? I believe it is an indication that Rhoda was about to find out that on the mirror planet, there was a version of herself that did not crash into the car, and that John’s family – and her life – were intact there.

Rating: 3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Another Earth is a tough movie to shake off... resisting movie tactics that usually accompany such material. Using a sci-fi premise to engage a grounded, almost pedestrian story of guilt and regret is a bold stroke."
- Steve Persall (St. Petersburg Times)


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