Movies like Another Earth are so incredibly depressing. I don’t mean in terms of content, I mean in terms of execution.
Let me explain.
Another Earth isn’t a depressing movie. Some of the circumstances the characters find themselves in are upsetting, but it isn’t the film’s intention to bring you down. So when I call a movie depressing based solely on implementation, it means the filmmakers have seriously screwed something up. Which is the case here.
Another Earth is all concept, little follow through. In the beginning of the film, 17-year-old Rhoda (Brit Marling, a natural) drives away from a party drunk and slams into a car, killing a pregnant female passenger and catapulting a little boy from the backseat to the asphalt. (This isn’t done in gory detail; the film maintains its PG-13 rating well.)
Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison and soon makes it her goal to seek the driver of the car she hit and apologize. Once she finds the driver, John (William Mapother, never better), now widowed and childless, she doesn’t have the stones to tell the truth, so she pretends to be a cleaning lady and tidies up his dump of a house.
Now, you’ll notice that I didn’t mention the titular second Earth that is so prominent in the film's trailer. And that’s for good reason: because the other Earth has virtually nothing to do with the rest of the movie.
The other Earth was discovered the night of Rhoda’s accident, and by the time she’s out of jail, communication with the other planet has been established, and a space voyage is imminent. This has the makings of a fantastic science fiction film. An planet that appears to be an exact replica of ours rests in a galaxy not so far far away. But instead of using that as its key element, the other Earth is treated simply as a gimmick.
The planet is used as a way for Rhoda to rediscover herself, and it also, lamely, motivates her and John to become closer. If it sounds flimsy, that’s because it is. When a plot element is treated with such nonchalance, it could be replaced with damn near anything. Instead of there being another Earth, Rhoda could learn the joys of backgammon. She could choose to paint, or, adversely, discover the wonderment of, say, heroin. It doesn’t matter what the gimmick is, because, evidently, it isn’t essential to the story.
Another Earth, however, is far from awful. Brit Marling and William Mapother are remarkable in their respective roles. The script (co-written by Marling) has them doing next to nothing (or doing things that are laughably unbelievable) but they somehow make it work. And while he may want to learn the importance of delegating duties, director/writer/cinematographer/editor Mike Cahill deserves credit for doing all he did on such a slim budget (reported at $200,000).
Another Earth displays fragments of a great film. Its compelling premise is misused and misguided. It’s usually not a good sign when the final scene of a movie paves way for a far more interesting film than the one we’ve just seen. C