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“Another Earth” — film review by Gary Chew

Aug 052011
 By , August 5, 2011


Ethan Hawke in "Gattaca"

In the near future there was once a young woman named Rhoda Williams, played by Brit Marling. Rhoda hopes she’ll depart Earth, soon, for another planet…like Ethan Hawke’s Vincent, in “Gattaca” (1997), had his heart set on rocketing to a Saturnian moon; the one called, Titan. But the orb Rhoda may go to is in the neighborhood, so to speak. It’s the one you can see from where she lives in New Haven —there: all blue in the sky, looking like that compelling shot of Earth taken from our only moon. You remember… like the one CBS News used, on the air, when real news was the only kind American television reported.

That’s right, Earth.

But this is the doppelgänger of Earth. It’s been out of sight behind the sun all these eons, incommunicado (except for, maybe with Philip K. Dick); but just the other day, somehow orbited around to our side. Then it moved nearer to us than you might think (or really could, due to the scientifically proven gravitation forces of two such planets, so close).

Yes, a celestial buddy look-alike in tow with the Earth we all know—and some of us love.

“Another Earth” is the first feature of Mike Cahill. He and Ms. Marling, the leading lady, wrote the script.

I hear that “Another Earth’s” story lies at the edge of quantum physics. You know, that multiverse theory that posits (good word) our universe could be many universes that exist in interpenetrating dimensions.

The promotion notes for “Another Earth” go on to indicate that, although it can neither be scientifically confirmed nor denied that parallel universes exist, such concepts have given rise to “The Wizard of Oz,” “Back to the Future” and “Star Trek,” not to mention other scenarios of reality professed by some people who shout a lot on talk television and radio.

What gets at you, watching “Another Earth,” is that at the moment Earth One (that’s us) and Earth Two (that’s the new one)… break their synchronicity, all sameness of the two planets and their inhabitants is separated as it relates to what may or may not happen to them in the future. (This is a heavy plot point.)

And at that split second, just before the planets lose their synchronicity, is when Rhoda, looking up at the new Earth in the night sky while steering her speeding vehicle down a darkened freeway, crashes into another car with a father, mother and their children in it. It’s Rhoda’s fault and it isn’t pretty.

For her negligence, Rhoda spends the next four years in the joint. But doing the time doesn’t assuage her guilt. So, she can’t become an astrophysicist, schooling at MIT. That’s probably why the shot-thru-with-holes script punishes her, instead, “letting” Rhoda make a living (post prison) by cleaning the hallways, classrooms and toilets of a local middle school.

Brit Marling and William Mapother

This is when the story sort of kicks in. After getting her job at the middle school, Rhoda seeks and finds the father (played by William Mapother) who’d been driving, but survived. She asks to clean his house without telling him she was the person who was driving the other car. They fall in love and she wins the worldwide essay contest that gets the winner a free ticket to Earth Two (Bingo: “Gattaca’s” Vincent). Contestants are required to write about why they want to go to Earth Two.

I don’t want to say more because, despite the near ridiculous synopsis you’ve just read, “Another Earth” does have a provocative ending: one that does make you think about another YOU, just like YOU, on a doppelgänger Earth in a multiverse. But even more importantly, “Another Earth’s” big finish connects this provocative reflecting with an act of grace through redemption, of which a whole lot more is needed on this Earth, and any other that might linger—waiting to surprise us from behind the glare of the sun.

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Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.

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