‘Another Earth': A Thoughtful Sci-Fi Romance — Without Aliens

Instead, the movie’s all-too-human characters are alienated from their own feelings at times, as a second Earth appears

Last Updated: July 22, 2011 @ 11:00 AM

Can’t bear to sit through yet another robot or superhero-filled extravaganza or R-rated raunchy comedy this summer? “Another Earth” offers the discerning moviegoer a welcome alternative.

This indie drama — a prizewinner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival — is a sci-fi romance. But there’s not a single alien in sight — rather, the movie’s all-too-human characters are more than a little alienated from their own feelings at times, trying their best to push down and mask painful emotions.

And it’s about exactly what the title says: A second Earth, complete with its own moon, has suddenly appeared. It hangs, shimmering on the horizon, visible from our Earth day and night and tantalizing all with its possibilities. 

This other Earth first appears on the very night that a smart high-school senior, Rhoda Williams (played by newcomer Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with first-time feature director Mike Cahill), is out celebrating getting accepted by M.I.T. Driving home after a night of partying, she runs a light and slams into a car carrying respected composer John Borroughs (William Mapother), his pregnant wife and young son. 

When Rhoda gets out of prison a few years later, she seeks out John, the only one in his family to have survived the accident. She and John are both mere shells of their former selves, cut off from others emotionally by the after-effects of the tragedy. Without revealing her true identity, she inserts herself into his life. Slowly, these two help each other to begin to return to the land of the living.

Throughout the movie, there’s constant talk on the radio and on TV about the other Earth and plans to journey there. Shades of TV’s “Fringe”: Could it be that everyone on our Earth has a doppelganger on the second Earth, an identical twin to yourself who just might be a happier and more successful version of you? It’s a question of special appeal to both Rhoda and John.

Marling is a rangy blond with a long face that is just this side of interesting rather than being blandly beautiful. There is a muted intensity to her performance, which is all the more hauntingly effective for its restraint, especially as Rhoda begins to shed her emotional numbness.

It’s a measure of “Another Earth’s” ability to move a viewer that when you come out of the movie, you’ll find yourself gazing upward, checking almost hopefully to see whether a second Earth hasn’t made an appearance.