Another Earth Review: Failure To Launch

ANOTHER EARTH (12A): On General Release Friday 9th December

Massive planets seem to be the image du jour.  We’ve already had the looming presence of the planet Melancholia dominating earth’s skyline in Lars von Trier’s fantastic film of the same name. Now Mike Cahill’s Another Earth sees an exact replica of our earth called Earth2 hovering just beyond the moon.  But rather than a portent of the coming apocalypse, Earth2 is a beacon of hope for a better life.

Brit Marling plays Rhoda, a promising young student who’s just been accepted to MIT.  But with the discovery of Earth 2, she’s distracted and crashes her car into that of John Burroughs, killing his wife and son who were also on board.  Rhoda survives but is imprisoned for four years for dangerous driving and is constantly wracked with guilt.  Meanwhile John’s life is left shattered without his family.

On leaving prison Rhoda seeks out John with the intention of apologising but finds that when it comes down to it, she can’t find the words.  After spending increasingly more time with each other they start to fall in love, but Rhoda’s guilty secret threatens to destroy everything.

The very best sci-fi isn’t about special effects or whiz-bang graphics (although they certainly can add to the fun) but is rather about the human dramas which unfold in that context.  Earth 2 might be a perpetual ethereal presence in the sky, but Another Earth is focused on the human dramas unfolding on terra firma.

Brit Marling delivers a terrific naturalistic performance which makes Rhoda entirely believable. Watching Rhoda dig herself into a deeper well of deceit, all the while feeling guilty for what she’s doing but unable to extricate herself from her own cowardice is gripping viewing.

It poses several philosophical questions.  What would you say to yourself if you ever met yourself?  What huge differences could there be if one decided to take a different path?   But Another Earth frustratingly doesn’t develop these ideas beyond simply posing the thought experiment, one which will be familiar to even the most cursory of couch-bound philosophers.

It would have worked as a short or an episode of The Outer Limits but as a feature, there needs to be more than simple idle philosophical musing mixed with familiar terrestrial drama to sustain its running time.

Follow Jez Sands on Twitter.