By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
Another Earth, a small movie with big ideas, doesn’t impress because it’s out of this world, but because it’s of this world.
It’s a science fiction speculation, a star-crossed romance, a fantasy-drama about loss and guilt and redemption, and a meditation on second chances.
Brit Marling, who also co-wrote the script and co-produced with debuting director Mike Cahill, plays Rhoda Williams, a young woman who aspires to become an astrophysicist and who, while celebrating her acceptance to MIT, is distracted by something magical going on up in the sky — the startling scientific discovery that a planet closely resembling Earth is now clearly visible as it orbits the sun.
Her drunken, celebratory evening ends in tragedy on the highway, and Rhoda ends up in prison for four years feeling responsible for ruining the life of renowned composer John Burroughs, a husband and father played by William Mapother who is now deeply damaged and depressed.
Wanting to approach making it up to him in some way — not that that’s actually possible — she shows up on the reclusive Yale professor’s doorstep claiming to be an employee of a house cleaning service.
And, improbably but persuasively, a precarious romance blossoms.
Although the sneakily powerful emotional punch that the film delivers involves the relationship between the two leads, it’s the celestial through-line about a parallel universe that helps sustain the mood.
Earth Two, as it’s dubbed, is the alternate Earth whereupon things and people and life may be very similar to what is experiended on Earth — that is, close to a mirror image, but not exactly the same.
The concept consumes Rhoda, who dreams of someday getting to travel there and even enters an essay contest that offers a seat on the space shuttle bound for Earth Two as a prize.
Perhaps, she hopes, she might even get the chance to experience a different hand than the one she has apparently and unhappily been dealt.
Director Cahill, who also served as his own cinematographer and editor, smoothly inserts the newest addition to our collective sky in shot after shot, usually in an unobtrusive but undeniable corner of the frame, subtly reminding us of the notion that there just might be another version of our planet — and thus of each of our selves — within view.
Hold that giant “what if” of a thought, because Another Earth intends to pay it off by film’s end.
Working on a modest, low-tech level, the resourceful Cahill makes the most of what he has and what he spends, and somehow manages to follow through on his ambitious hypothetical premise and deliver a movie that’s both bracingly cerebral and engrossingly emotional.
Mapother is fine, but the discovery and revelation here is Marling, who is luminous and touching and expressive and commanding, appearing in nearly every frame and effectively helping to sell even the film’s most farfetched notions.
So we’ll redeem 3 stars out of 4 for the minimalist metaphysical marvel, Another Earth, a provocative and haunting idea imaginatively unearthed.