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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Another Earth

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  4_Chicks_Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Another Earth

This independent film can come across as ponderous simply because of its soundtrack.  Wailing operatic voices and thundering musical passages invade your eardrums like exclamation points, proclaiming, “This is Deep! Important! Profound!”

As it turns out, Another Earth is all those things and more.  It’s like a sniper, stealthily sneaking up on the unsuspecting viewer with its cloak of dismal ordinariness, depressing repetitions, and the insistent continuation of two dreary lives destroyed by literal and figurative wreckage.

It’s also got a science fiction element to it with the premise of a doppelganger Earth suddenly discovered among the stars, complete with counterpart inhabitants, cities, countries, languages and most importantly, relationships.  Imagine the possibilities.

“Where are you going on your vacation?”  “Me? I’m going to visit my other family on Earth 2 – my mom’s still alive on that one…”

The story starts on the day the new planet is discovered as a blue star in the night sky.  Scientific reasons for this are forthcoming but pale in comparison to the plot points that make it especially relevant.

Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is a seventeen year old high school student with an interest and talent in astrophysics.  She’s MIT-bound, but that all changes in a rare moment of irresponsible curiosity mixed with drunk driving.  Rhoda kills 3/4 of a loving, nuclear family and is sent to prison for four years.

The tragedy’s lone survivor is John Burroughs (William Mapother).  His wife, young son and unborn daughter were casualties of Rhoda’s momentary lapse.  His life’s become more like an existence which he moves through in somber contemplation, steeped in melancholy ruminations punctuated by blank stares.  Taking care of his house has not been a top priority for the music professor.

Upon her release, Rhoda, now twenty one, looks up Burroughs with full knowledge of who he is.  He does not know anything about her.  She was a minor when the accident occurred, so the records were sealed.  Her intent is to apologize; instead she winds up becoming his housekeeper.  He only learns her first name when he asks her after several visits.

A drab, self-hating Rhoda makes reparations by cleaning Burroughs’ long neglected house, but never cashing his checks for her services.  She also works as a custodian at a local high school.  The work is menial and humbling but Rhoda believes that she deserves no better.  It’s almost painful to watch the quiet way she disparages herself but er tasks become a form of catharsis for the perpetual penitent.  She can create order out of disarray and chaos, a form of control she doesn’t have over any other aspect of her life.

As a backdrop, Earth 2, the twin planet discovered on the eve of the tragic accident becomes close enough to be a fixture in the sky, both day and night, dwarfing the moon with an unnerving familiarity.  Rhoda enters a contest in which the prize is a trip to the new planet and makes a poignant, compelling argument for her selection, adding that she is a convicted felon.

Grieving and lonely, employer and housekeeper form a sudden romantic bond that takes them both by surprise.  The reawakening comes with hard choices for Rhoda, spinning her between truth or convenient deception, new love or continued isolation.   Of course the best thing, the right thing, is also the most painful.

The ending may raise more questions than answers, but will inspire you to speculate about the outcome with a host of possibilities made possible by the appearance of a whole new world to explore.  One scene shows a scientist communicating with her counterpart scientist (same name, same position) to establish first contact.  There’s an explanation for Earth/Earth 2’s synchronization up to a point, and why the two planets diverge from simultaneous events after that time.

Marling is great at playing the mousy, hangdog regret-magnet that is Rhoda.  Mapother is slightly more animated, although neither actor warrants a party hat; both pull off grief as if they were about to elope with it after a lengthy engagement.

Director Mike Cahill (Boxers and Ballerinas) never strays from the confines of the Earth we know but opens up a wide variety of possibilities about the new entity.  Cahill marries the mundane with the fantastic in a way that makes the existence of an Earth 2 seem like business as usual.  The speculation factor alone is good for several “what if” scenarios.

Another Earth is a slow and thoughtful character-driven story about the human toll that a tragedy takes on both victim and perpetrator.  Earth 2 is just a backdrop, almost an afterthought so that it becomes more plausible when weighed against the gravitas (not gravity) on our own third rock.

Seems the whole world IS watching.  All you have to do is look up.

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