Another Earth is of a rare breed of sci-fi films, the kind where the fantastical conceit is not a justification for tantalizing imagery or riveting action, but a truly provoking philosophical idea that informs the characters in the film. While the conceit has grand, majestic implications which could justify a sweeping sci-fi epic, Another Earth is a tiny, introspective film that looks into how the drastic change affects two lives.
When a new, nearby planet appears in the sky, Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) finds the same evening meets her with a great mistake as she becomes the catalyst of a drunk driving accident that leaves a local composer John Burroughs (William Mapother) without a son or a wife. As time goes on, Rhoda does menial work and John broods in pain as the world discovers this mysterious planet appears to be an exact copy of Earth.
From there, the idea becomes a catalyst for human contemplation of the idea of existence. How does the idea of another us out there change our lives? What would we say to ourselves? What would we hope our other to be? And while the film brings up these provoking questions, it evolves them to be explored through impulses of reconciliation and atonement.
For some, the way the film goes about doing this might seem implausible, farfetched and ridiculous, but the film attempts to psychologically justify the actions of its characters. It perhaps is not quite as strong and cohesive as it should be, but as a thematic exploration, the film does a good job of delving into the implications of such a messy human relationship.
And while the core content of the film may not be as solid and tight as it should be, the quiet, slow working style elevates the material. It’s a predominantly introspective examination, one constantly focusing on the people in the frame even amidst the potential to be taken in awe by the second Earth. Yes, it still tries to place humans as a microcosm in the universe, but it’s the microcosm the film has under its microscope.
Likewise, the often wordless, lingering scenes build an atmosphere of unease, in part due to the reverberating cool images. There are moment in this film that are tense and suspenseful when nothing at all is happening and by the end of the film, I was looking over my shoulder, unnerved by the style of the film.
In a period where sci-fi films are becoming more complex, intricate and bizarre, Another Earth is a breath of fresh air that reminds us that the heart of sci-fi is not in mind games, but in asking the big questions. Another Earth finds a small, quiet way to ask those questions and its exploration proves to be just as intriguing and engaging as the action heavy, plot dense sci-fi mind games.
© 2012 James Blake Ewing