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Encountering Our Alternate Self is Message of 'Another Earth'

  • Penelope Poulou

Brit Marling in Another Earth

Brit Marling in Another Earth

What if there was an exact copy of us living an alternate life on an alternate earth? Mike Cahill's new science-fiction drama explores that possibility.

"Another Earth" focuses on Rhoda Williams, a promising young astrophysicist, whose life is shattered after she kills two people in car accident. Rhoda lives in limbo until one day, when another earth appears on the horizon.

Like its inhabitants, Earth 2 is a duplicate of our world. For many, such a prospect is unnerving. For Rhoda, it's hope. After serving a jail sentence for the deadly crash, she lives at her parents’ house, closed-off from the world, unable to forgive herself. On Earth 2, her life might have taken a different course. She might have swerved instead of hitting the mother and son. On Earth 2, she might be living the life she feels she was meant to.

"This will be a trip like no other. We will give those that travel with us a unique and life-changing experience. Travel to Earth 2, now booking."

Rhoda cannot afford the flight. So she enters an essay contest which offers her a chance to fulfill her dream.

She wins.

Meanwhile, her life has taken yet another turn. In an effort to find redemption, she goes to apologize to the man who lost his wife and child in the accident. But she loses her nerve and pretends she's looking for work as a house cleaner. Because she was a minor at the time of the crash, her identity was not disclosed, and John - unaware of her impact on his life - hires her. Cautiously, they start a friendship, then a relationship. When she tells him she won the trip to Earth 2 he keeps a brave face. Again, he’s losing someone close.

William Mapother offers a compelling performance as pain-stricken John Burroughs. He says the story, albeit science-fiction, allowed for dramatic expression. "It takes what we imagine to be a very outrageous concept of another earth and it grounds it. It grounds and roots the extraordinary in the ordinary. So for the actor, instead of playing with something heady we're playing with something very real," he said.

First-time actress Brit Marling offers a nuanced interpretation as Rhoda Williams. She also co-wrote the script and produced the film. She explains the storyline started with the concept of meeting our other self. "And that became the idea of a story of forgiveness. That the person who most has the hardest time seeing herself and the hardest time sort of letting go is somebody who can't forgive herself or let herself off the hook for something," he said.

Filming documentary-style, with a handheld camera, director Mike Cahill sets a realistic tone to a fictional, outlandish story that resonates with audiences. “I think all of us have this primal yearning to connect. And I think the idea of a doppelganger or a person who shares your experiences so intimately that they are you is kind of a fulfillment of a fantasy that we have as humans," he said.

"Another Earth" is a unique, sensitive drama which raises philosophical questions and offers a provocative ending. The film cost less than $100,000 to make and has already won two coveted awards at the Sundance Film Festival. It has been greeted enthusiastically by critics and viewers, who are left pondering possibilities, long after the closing credits.

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