Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is an exceptionally intelligent 17 year-old with a very bright future ahead of her. On the same night that she is out celebrating her acceptance into MIT, a new planet is discovered that scientists deem identical to earth (cleverly named "Earth 2"). While driving home drunk, Rhoda looks up into the sky to get a look at this new planet and smashes into another car, instantly killing the wife and child of Yale music professor John Burroughs (William Mapother) who goes into a coma. Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison and finds herself drawn to John who never saw her face or read her name during the trial. Posing as a cleaning woman, she works her way into John's life, hoping to find the courage to confess her crime and thereby clear her conscience. Simultaneously, earth and earth 2 are drawing closer to one another (more on this later) and it is learned that the planets are exact copies: anyone who exists on earth also exists on earth 2 and theoretically, their events of their lives would be the same leading up to the moment of mutual discovery. Displeased with the direction of her life, Rhoda enters and wins a contest to be among the first to travel to the new planet (more on this later as well), an opportunity she sees as a chance to start over. But as her relationship with John deepens, she must decide not only whether or not to leave for the new world but also if she can confess her identity to the man she took everything from.
Somewhere inside Another Earth there exists a worthwhile indie drama that has a bit of promise. Marling, who also wrote the film, has genuine appeal and you can see why she's become a hot name around Hollywood. This is an actress who could really be something in a few years, provided she finds the right projects. There's no reason she couldn't fill some of the roles going to Felicity Jones or pick up the scraps from Jennifer Lawrence's table. Likewise, I think director Mike Cahill (also co-writer) shows some talent behind the camera and a knack for finding the right shot for the situation, heightening the drama in the already tense atmosphere of his film. Both of them will go on to bigger and better things...
...which is good because Another Earth is a convoluted mess. The problem with this type of indie drama is the hook; in order to set your film apart from a glutted market of similar films, only a few of which receive any kind of mass marketing, you have to come up with something different that brings attention. If you're a studio executive and Mike Cahill is pitching this film to you (which I know is not the way it works for these films but go along with me), you're saying something to the effect of, "Okay, so you've got a messed up relationship between two opposites who are brought together by tragedy. That's great. But tell me, why am I going to see your movie instead of Like Crazy or Away We Go? Oh, there's a subplot involving a second earth that's (inexplicably) getting closer and closer to our own planet? Bingo!" The end result is essentially a sci-fi concept film and as I've said before, concept films, even artsy ones like this, rarely work. Science fiction is tough enough to get right (and that's coming from a huge sci-fi nerd) and it's even tougher when you've got an inexperienced hand guiding the ship. Cahill and Marling pay little attention to the details surrounding their sci-fi subplot and as a result, these sloppy elements are almost all I could focus on.
Don't get me wrong; there are a number issues with this film that have nothing to do with the haphazard hook. Every actor outside of Marling and Mapother ranges in talent from, "extra who was given a couple of lines" to "professional actor who should probably start looking for another profession." None of these supporting players are given much screen time (mercifully) but when they are...ouch. All of the characters are extremely shallow, making their transitions seem insignificant. And the storyline itself is so slow and unclear that I actually had to go online and search forums in order to piece together the film's intent.
But none of these issues hold a candle to the sheer idiocy of the subplot. I pride myself on my ability to not hold movies to the laws of reality. It's a movie; things are going to happen that could never happen in real life and honestly, that's the way we all want it more often than not. All I ask of a film is that it either A.) Stay within the realm of "reasonably realistic enough to pretend I don't notice the inaccuracies" or B.) Outs itself in the beginning as a film that should in no way shape or form be taken seriously. But I would maintain it is impossible to sit through Another Earth without asking some real questions. For example, in the beginning earth 2 is a tiny blue dot in the far distance but by the end of the film, the planet is a giant colossus dominating the skyline both day and night. No reason is given for this change nor does it ever seem to bother the inhabitants of either planet that they are headed for, you know, a catastrophic collision. This made me more than a little crazy. Another major issue comes along with the whole, "win a seat on the first trip to earth 2" which is organized by a Richard Branson-like billionaire. So, basically, we're to believe that a new planet is rapidly invading our orbit and not only does NASA not make a trip of their own, they're totally cool with renting out their equipment to a rebel businessman. Even a cursory line about this being the "first commercial trip" to earth 2 would have sufficed but apparently this never occurred to anyone involved with the making of the film. These (and many others) are stupid mistakes that only come along when a filmmaker doesn't know how to handle a given topic or doesn't care enough to try and make the subplot blend with the main theme. And if the people behind a film don't care enough to make their film work, then why should anyone else care enough to see it?