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Another Earth

[Rating: 3.5/5]

“Another Earth” uses a science fiction premise to explore, instead of other worlds, the inner unexplored territory.  A lot of the best science fiction does this, and this film is bound to draw comparisons to “Solaris” and “Moon.”

As the film opens, Brit Marling is a talented high school graduate with a bright future in front of her.  After a graduation party, she gets the behind the wheel when she probably shouldn’t, but hey, high school kids on their way to MIT think they’re invincible.  And they might be, but they forget about the damage they can do to others who aren’t.  Marling runs a light and hits a family in a station wagon, killing the mother and child and leaving the father in a coma.  In her defense, she ran the light because she was staring into the night sky and the mirror-image Earth that had just appeared in the sky.

The science here is a bit beyond me, and beyond the scope of the film; it doesn’t bother to explain much, but we gather that the other Earth truly is a mirror-image; every person here has a doppleganger there.  Perhaps it has appeared from a parallel universe; perhaps it is still in that universe, and somehow a window has opened between it and ours.

Marling goes to prison for what she’s done, and emerges a much sadder, less ambitious young woman.  She gets a job as a janitor at her old high school.  But she can’t stop thinking of the surviving father (William Mapother) of the family she killed.  So she approaches his house, apparently to apologize, but then chickens out and pretends like she’s from a maid service, sent to clean his house.

Now this is where “Another Earth” walks on thin ice.  Of course a relationship develops between the two, and even as I write this, it sounds like “While You Were Sleeping” syndrome — the awful, groan-worthy movie convention where one character keeps meaning to tell the truth to another, but never does until the moment of crisis, at which point everything falls apart and has to be put back together again in time for the happy ending — but “Earth” manages not to fall into the frozen lake of cheesiness and sentimentality it skates across.  Yes, the above plot line is followed, to a T, but somehow, it manages to feel believable and not contrived.  Marling keeps cleaning his house, and sees it as a way to make his life a tiny bit better, and that doing so might be a better way to do penance than an apology.  The romance between the two of them never stops seeming unlikely, but at least it’s handled with a certain amount of poetry and restraint.  They are both lonely, hurting people.

And don’t forget the science fiction angle: apparently, everything on the two planets was exactly the same, until that moment Earth 2 appeared in the sky, when the causelines split.  And since that moment was just before Marling killed Mapother’s family, it means that, up there, something different could’ve happened.  This, really, is the entire function of the sci-fi; to provide a way to meditate on what might’ve been, had one or two small details been slightly different, to give the characters, and the audience vicariously, the opportunity to wonder – what if?

It also offers Marling something real to offer Mapother, when the truth finally comes out.  There’s a starry-eyed billionaire planning a trip to the other Earth, and he launches an essay contest, the winner of which gets to go with him.  Of course Marling wins, but she gives her trip to Mapother.  This seems to be both hopeful and terribly problematic; if his family is alive up there, then so is his doppleganger; they already have him, so to speak, and there will be no place for him, not for long.  Which means he will see his family again, but also, that he will have lose them again.  Is that worth it?

The movie never explores this; it’s my own wanderings.  “Another Earth” is the kind of movie that invites your mind to wander over its possibilities, to contemplate the questions its characters are contemplating.  That might be its greatest strength — it poses interesting questions in a dramatically thoughtful way, and invites a level of engagement from its viewer that few movies can match.

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  1. I leave a comment whenever I appreciate a post on a site or if I have something to add to the conversation. Usually it is caused by the passion displayed in the post I read. And on this post Another Earth | I was actually excited enough to drop a thought 😉 And, if you are writing on other places, I’d like to follow you. Would you list the complete urls of all your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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