Imagine, if you will, that one day astronomers discover another blue planet in the sky which appears identical to ours, with all our same atmospheric and environmental conditions, which has all the signs of being able to sustain life, and is approaching, quickly. For young Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), however, the day takes on significantly different meaning, as in a moment of drunk-and-distracted driving, she accidentally kills the family of John Burroughs (William Mapother) and puts the talented composer and college professor in a coma. Cut to four years later, with the still-approaching “Earth 2” now dominating the sky, Rhoda returns home from prison, completely adrift, grasping at…anything, whether it’s a new beginning (she enters an online contest to be the first private citizen to be flown to Earth 2), or just forgiveness from Burroughs who, unaware of her true identity, allows her to enter into his life and confidence.
All the pieces are present for what could be an interesting, sci-fi inflected meditation on redemption and salvation, but unfortunately writer/director Michael Cahill drops the ball – Another Earth, to put it kindly, is just not very interesting.
Another Earth plays as a sort of reversal of last year’s Rabbit Hole, another study in mourning and ultimately forgiveness, which also had a bit to do with parallel universes (in Another Earth, the continents, shoreline, cities, and even eventually the people of Earth 2 are discovered to be exactly the same, giving evidence that this is actually some sort of parallel universe/wormhole event, that the other planet is not actually, physically “there”, further explaining why the gravitational pull of two large bodies in such close proximity would not rip both worlds to shreds), and like that other movie, so much depends on how the audience feels for the actors and the characters they inhabit. Unfortunately, Brit Marling is just too stony, too expressionless, too emotionless for anyone to ever gain a real connection to her character. William Mapother, as the grieving father and husband, does depression/anger well, but has neither the range nor subtlety of an Aaron Eckhart or Nicole Kidman to give a performance that is terribly compelling.
Another Earth is very much in the movie making style which has been rather derisively dubbed “mumble core”: lots of handheld video of white, middle-class, 20-something slackerish-types not doing terribly much with their days or their lives, and the movies themselves every bit as quiet, center less, and largely improvised (Brit Marling actually gets a co-writing credit) as the lives of the characters within. The low-key plots/non-plots, almost fetishistic use of video, and rather questionable audio quality of many of these movies have gained mumble core, to some people, a positive comparison to the Dogme 95 movement of Lars Von Trier and his ilk. I’m not a big fan of the Dogme movies anyway, but even I feel that this comparison is unearned, as the Dogme movement originally began as a manifesto to revolutionize the very idea of filmmaking itself, while mumblecore, to me, has never been about much more than “we can’t really afford any actual writers, actors, or nice equipment”.
More for the purposes of advancing the plot than anything else, the movie puts forth the “broken mirror theory” of parallel worlds, that everything between the two worlds would be exactly the same until the very moment when the two worlds see each other, at which point the mirror would “break” and the two worlds would branch off to their separate paths. My problem (and I wouldn’t even care so much if this was just a passing detail in the movie, but the theory is pivotal to the entire final act of the movie) is that, even after the break, the paths of the two Earths are still entirely too predictably parallel. If two glasses were dropped, they would not break in the same way, even if they were both manufactured by the same factory and dropped by the same person under identical circumstances. The broken mirror in Another Earth is entirely too “Tiny Toons”, too straight-1:1 for me to suspend belief: that the same person would be head of the SETI communications division, and would be sitting down in a broadcast booth at exactly the same moment, for one example. Don’t even get me started on that non-twist of a final shot.
Of course, if the histories of our two worlds are so close to have developed identical cities and identical people getting identical jobs, perhaps it makes sense that the “breaks” along the mirrors would also follow such similar paths, or maybe…. It was at about this point that I realized that I was spending far more time making excuses for the movie than I was actually thinking about the movie itself, which is a good sign that I wanted to like the movie more than I did, but rarely (if ever) a sign that the movie is actually very good.
With all its talk (and many authoritative sound-biting) of science and confronting one’s self (in the most literal sense) and one’s life, Another Earth really just boils down to a rather simplistic (which is different from simple) story of redemption and second chances. With the set up of its many different plot elements, not to mention the obvious ambition of the director, Another Earth, much like the fictional life of its main character, is a missed chance to have been something special – on any Earth.