On the night a new planet appears in the night sky, a horrible crime occurs. Eighteen-year-old Rhoda Williams, driving drunk and staring out her window instead of looking at the road, smashes into a car sitting at a stoplight. She kills a young boy and his mother, and plunges the father into a coma.
Four years later Rhoda is released from jail but is emotionally withdrawn from the events and people around her. She barely communicates with her family, chooses to take a job as a janitor and attempts to commit suicide because she is so filled with guilt about the deaths she created. Rhoda finally decides to become close to the father, acclaimed composer John Burroughs, and events between Rhoda and John take an unpredictable turn. Meanwhile the other Earth lingers in the sky, presenting great and shocking revelations.
Like the best episodes of the original Twilight Zone, Another Earth uses its science fiction elements in a symbolic way that emphasizes the depth of its sad, intense and thoughtful storyline. The alternative earth, called Earth 2 in the movie, is used as an aching representation of the potential we all feel in our lives, as a way to escape the disappointments of our lives by meeting the one person who really knows us well, our own doppelganger.
The promise of that other Earth is tantalizing for the characters in this movie. As Rhoda and John explore their relationship in this movie, the second Earth represents the chance for renewal, for change, for acceptance. But like a good Rod Serling story, Another Earth doesn't answer any questions but rather poses them in ways that we never expect.
This movie is suffused by sadness. Rhoda and John are thoroughly broken people and the tone and feel of this movie present that sadness in a compelling way. Rhoda, played by Brit Marling, is a very smart girl – she had been planning to go to college at MIT – whose life was shattered by a horrible mistake. Marling, who was also the co-screenwriter of this movie, seems to thoroughly inhabit Rhoda's character. We feel all the pain that she feels in her very expressive face. In a very quiet movie like this one, that kind of expressiveness is necessary, and she does a terrific job with subtle communications.
William Mapother, as Professor John Burroughs, has an intense sadness to his character that seems to suffuse every scene with him in it. When Rhoda first peeks in the window of John's house after the accident, it's clear that he's a shattered man. His house is a complete mess, bottles of alcohol are everywhere, and John slinks about with the gaunt, haunted look of a man whose life has been devastated. The looks on his face as he slowly begins to wake up to the world around him are sad and intriguing and complex.
Slowly and without a lot of adornment, the relationship between Rhoda and John grows as revelations from Earth 2 become clearer. There's an inexorable quality to the relationship between the two main characters that made me feel intrigued and pained at the same time.
In the end, the unexplored landscape of Earth 2 is a symbolic representation of the vast unexplored terrain of the human heart. It represents the potential for redemption even after the most horrific tragedy. It represents aspiration, hope, and the chance for one young girl and one middle-aged man to find some kind of peace and joy in the midst of lives suffused with sadness.
This movie was made very cheaply and there are no special effects in it. But the small budget really works in the film's favor. There's a real sense of verité to many of the scenes in this movie that might not have worked as well if it was made for a lot of money. But as in the best science fiction, you are left with ideas and characters that haunt you as a reader. If you enjoy your science fiction rich with ideas that reflect on everyday life, this is the movie for you.
Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.