What if one day another planet appeared in the sky? How would you feel and what would you do?
In 2011, two films were released that tackled the issue of the Earth coming face to face with another planet: Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Mike Cahill’s indie film Another Earth. I reviewed Melancholia when it was screened as part of the 2011 Canberra International Film Festival.
Another Earth was more organic in its approach to narrative compared to von Trier’s work which seemed forced and self-conscious of its own artistic direction. But like Melancholia, Another Earth is a human drama set in a larger science fiction reality. But, this is not your typical science fiction film.
One day, a planet appears in the sky and it becomes apparent that it is a parallel Earth (Earth 2), complete with our doppelgängers. The human aspect of the story takes place on Earth 1 and is grounded in realism. Rhoda Williams, played by an effectual Brit Marling (who also co-wrote the screenplay), is a bright young woman recently out of jail. She seeks redemption from the actions that lead to her incarceration – a car accident that results in the involuntary homicide of the wife and child of John Burroughs (William Mapother), a well known and successful Ivy League professor of music.
The film is slow in pace and has an indie aesthetic. There are scenes where nothing much appears to happen. Some may find this irritating. I didn’t. I found Marling to be captivating as Rhoda – innocent, vulnerable, and naive, yet grounded in that sort of maturity afforded by circumstance and experience. Mapother is also effective, as the damaged and defeated professor whose optimism returns when Rhoda appears on his doorstep.
Another Earth does not seek to provide an explanation of the science it portrays. It’s not that sort of film. Earth 2 is a metaphor. Rhoda sees it as opportunity to escape her past, to see what she can learn from her parallel self and imagine a life that could have been. In the end however, you can never truly run from yourself. Earth 2 serves as a vehicle for Rhoda to accept her situation and reclaim what is left of her life.
About the author
Don Gomez maintains Science By Fiction and is undertaking a masters degree in science communication at the Australian National University’s Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Donnie loves a good yarn and is interested in the depiction of science in popular fiction.
Follow Don on Twitter @hairycanary