“Wish upon a little blue star”
If there is one thing Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) remembers, it is what she was doing the moment she first laid eyes on Earth 2. Driving home from a party days before her first semester at MIT, the DJ on the radio prompted her to peer into the night sky. But looking at this new planet couldn’t be a quick glimpse up for a science major with a shelf full of physics books and Asimov at home. Space was her world, the place her mind drifted to, and the empty void that consumed her as she rammed into a car opposite her at an intersection. The world had discovered Another Earthand all she’d be thinking about for the next four years in prison was the young boy who flew through his parents’ windshield, lying lifeless on the pavement at her feet.
Mike Cahill’s film—co-written by Marling—is a gripping psychological drama about loss, guilt, and remorse. Flashing forward from the initial car crash to the day Rhoda is released from jail, so much has changed. Her brother is about to begin college at UCONN, her ex-classmates are moving on to bigger and brighter things, Earth 2 now looms larger than the blue dot in the sky it was, and the sole survivor of her heinous act is awake from a coma. A shell of the promising co-ed she once was, she accepts a janitorial job at her old high school because her brain is no longer an option, the life she led destroyed by that night. There she can keep her head down so as not to let human interaction bring to the surface what she desperately hoped to suppress.
Rhoda soon notices her lone surviving victim while lingering at the spot of the accident, the guilt bringing her there. John Burroughs (William Mapother) places one of his son’s toys on the ground, his gait far removed from the joyful music composer of his previous life. Both are now sleepwalkers ambling without direction. Escape is impossible and the future a construct neither can fathom possessing anything worthwhile. He becomes a shut-in and she a ghost—language all but gone as the world beyond their self-imposed prisons has only pity to give. What they need, though, is a calm without the faces of the dead, silent seconds of emptiness to breath deep before the tears and sorrow return.
Wanting to acknowledge what was done, the now 21-year old girl takes a train and finds herself at John’s door. With trash littering the lawn and curtains drawn, Rhoda can imagine his state of mind sitting alone in darkness. She had stripped her own room bare of all but a mattress and lamp, instilling the starkness of prison as a reminder to the punishment she deserved. The words she wants to say run through her mind as we watch the silence of her nervous fear above Fall on Your Sword’s score. But once he opens the door and wipes his eyes in the bright sun, the unknown of what may transpire cripples her. She defensively lies about working for a cleaning service offering him a free trial run. And surprisingly to both, he takes her up on the offer—the state of his home more broken than the desire to remain alone can allow.
So, John welcomes the girl who killed his family and she complies. The awkwardness of the situation begs her to run, but the chance to bring some good back into his life makes her stay. Another Earth then continues—Rhoda and John returning to humanity more each day. The new planet hovers above to create a backdrop of hope where we once thought all was lost. Here is a world that mirrors our own, begging to be visited. A newscaster’s satellite greeting proves to all watching that there is a copy of every human living what could be the exact same timeline as us. There may be a chance our paths diverged, though: Earth 2’s Rhoda finding her brakes or John never stopping his car to give his wife a kiss. Maybe a clean slate is still possible.
Whether this science fiction aspect will be utilized to reboot or give a window into what could have been remains in the background until the very end. Cahill constantly reminds us of the planet by always adding it to the sky, but it is not the point of the story he is telling. The meaning of Another Earth is in the capability of two lost souls finding a way to continue their lives with the regret and tragedy marring them. We watch as Rhoda and John grow closer through time and break away from their self-loathing. The truth of who she is eventually becomes an afterthought we wonder will ever be made known to him just as an amoral layer shrouding their rebirth prevents us from continuing to forgive her deceit in lieu of his happiness. A line is crossed and however lost in darkness you think these two souls can go, the bottom can always fall deeper.
Mapother excels with his thousand-yard stare, emotionally turning smiling life to angry introversion at the drop of a hat. It’s a performance that exudes authenticity, his psychological break’s repair only possible through hard work and desire. We watch the transformation bring him closer to the girl he is falling for; the girl he also unknowingly wants dead for what she’s done. And Marling is a revelation, the introspection and ability to say so much without speech the key to believing the unfolding story. She hates herself for what she’s done and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s never forgotten. Entering a contest to see Earth 2 maybe an escape she’ll never earn, but perhaps winning could serve another purpose. The fantasy that it possesses a different reality she hasn’t changed irreparably keeps hope for an opportunity to give back what she took away alive. Our actions can never be taken back, but sometimes we may be able to move ever so slightly towards forgiveness.
Another Earth 8/10