Imagine scientists discover a planet capable of sustaining life as Earth does. Imagine that planet looks nearly identical to Earth and exists in the same universe. Imagine that upon initial communication with the life on that planet, it appears it’s a mirror image of Earth, by which I mean that the exact same life exists on it. By which I mean, YOU exist on it. Another version of you, that is. Another version of your mother, your father, your grandparents and great grandparents, all the way back to the first people and back even further, because, it seems, given the same atmosphere, the same life-sustaining essentials, the same set of geological circumstances, life as we know it on Earth will follow pretty much the same course. What does that mean, exactly? Maybe it means we don’t make the choices we do because those are the best choices we can make or because we feel like it or whatever other whimsical cause we can think of but maybe we make them because in those particular circumstances, those choices are the only ones that will ever be made. Am I over-thinking it? Perhaps. I don’t know what it means, really, but it’s an inspiring premise, isn’t it? One ripe with possibilities. With potential.
In Another Earth, scientists do discover a planet that (upon further investigation) seems to be a second Earth. On which, everyone alive on Earth today also exists. The film really isn’t about that, though. At the start, main character Rhoda Williams is a 17 year-old high school senior who just got accepted to MIT. She’s intelligent and beautiful and naive and ambitious. She hears about the discovery of this second Earth over the radio while driving home from a party late one night and peers her head out of the window to see the tiny blue dot that is this other planet. That one small choice – to look out of the window at a blue dot in the sky while driving – changes the course of her life and three others. She wrecks into an SUV in a head-on collision, killing a woman and her toddler son and nearly killing another. The survivor is the child’s father and the woman’s husband. His injuries put him into a coma for months while Rhoda is tried, convicted and sent to prison. Four years later, she comes out of prison a meek and broken 21 year-old smart enough to go to college and become an astronaut but too afraid of her own life to try. Instead, she takes a job cleaning a local high school and shies away from human interaction. She learns that this “new” planet is sort of a duplicate of Earth (or Earth is a duplicate of it) and she enters a contest to win a ticket to be among the first to visit it. Given the course her life has taken since its discovery, why wouldn’t she want to escape to it?
All of that happens in just the first act. Brit Marling, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Mike Cahill, carries the film with her subtle and powerful lead performance. Though Another Earth is an engaging and provocative film with an original premise, I have to admit it left me somewhat dissatisfied. I recommend it for all to see, without a doubt. But as the credits rolled, I wanted more. The final scene opens the door to countless possibilities and excites your imagination but, wait, it’s the FINAL SCENE. As in, the end. I may have even thrown my hands up in exasperation when that scene (and therefore, the film) ended. Don’t stop now! I wanted to say.
But come on, if my only real criticism of the movie is that I didn’t want it to end, does it count as a criticism? No. Here’s my real criticism: I wanted it to keep exploring the possibilities posed by the premise of an identical planet in the universe. But even that doesn’t count as a criticism because Another Earth isn’t really about exploring those possibilities. Maybe that’s what I wanted from it but that isn’t its point. It’s a film about loss, remorse and redemption. With that in mind, the story ends where it should. It shouldn’t reflect poorly on the movie that I wanted it to keep going. So, I guess what I’m saying is, I have no real criticisms of Another Earth. By which I mean: go out and watch it.