Mike Cahill's Another Earth is the latest in this year's influx of subtle, cosmically-based semi-Sci-Fi films (which has also included Lars von Trier's Melancholia and Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter). Another Earth does exactly what it says on the tin; intelligent teenager Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling, who also co-wrote with Cahill) celebrates her acceptance to MIT on the same night that a new Earth-like planet is discovered. While drunkenly looking upwards to catch a glimpse of Earth 2, she crashes head on into the car of John Burroughs (William Mapother, who you will remember as that creepy guy Ethan from Lost), putting him into a coma and killing his wife and son. After spending four years in jail, Rhoda re-emerges into a world where the sky is dominated by the approaching Earth 2, and takes a job as a janitor in her old school. Later, she discovers the identity of the man whose family she inadvertently killed, and after losing her nerve when she goes to apologise, ends up as his housekeeper.
While all this is going on, a startling discovery is made; Earth 2 is not just an Earth-like planet, but is in fact an almost exact carbon copy of our own planet, including the same countries, cities, and people. In other words, this film isn't just about Another Earth, it's also about Another You. Of course, this discovery immediately throws up all sorts of existential and philosophical quandaries, not the least of which is what, if you ever met the other you, would you say to each other? Rhoda is thrown in at the deep end after winning a flight to Earth 2, and must make the decision to go (into the relative unknown) or to stay (in her dead end job with her guilty conscience).
Another Earth has not been wowing the critics, but perhaps this is just because of its unfortunately timed release; with an epic existential planetary masterpiece in the shape of Melancholia orbiting onto the scene just a few months before, unfair comparisons have been made and Another Earth has been found wanting. It's true that the core story of Another Earth is a little formulaic (a character makes one haunting mistake before getting in too deep with the victim of that mistake), but the performances, from Marling especially, are wonderfully subdued and convincing. Plus, the film is shot in an intriguingly fragmented way through the use of different filming styles, giving the viewer a subjective impression of protagonist Rhoda's feelings and thought processes.
However, the most interesting things about Another Earth are the concepts behind it, both philosophical and psychological. Clearly the sudden appearance of another large life-supporting planet in our solar system, were it to happen in real life, would have catastrophic consequences - but, interestingly, the story of Another Earth bypasses this completely (unlike Melancholia) in favour of a psychodramatic exploration of emotions. There's no sense of impending doom here; only wonderment and cautious hope. While this film is by no means a masterpiece, it is pleasantly upbeat and thought-provoking, and does not deserve to get lost in the considerable shadow of Melancholia.
Another Earth is a KINOLENS Film of the Moment and is currently on general release in the UK.