Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Earth [2011]

MPAA (PG-13) CNS/USCCB () Roger Ebert (3 ½ stars) Fr Dennis (3 ½ stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert’s review

Another Earth (directed and cowritten by Mike Cahill along with Brit Marhling) is an independent-film which recently won 2 awards at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and IMHO deservedly so.

Driving home somewhat inebriated from a party, 17-year old Rhoda Williams (played by Brit Marhling) a talented student who had just been accepted into M.I.T (astrophysics, astronomy?), hears on the radio that a “new planet” _looking almost identical to the Earth_ had _just been discovered_ and _could be seen_ “just right of the north star” in the evening sky.  Looking-up at the sky for seemingly “just a second” to try to spot this new planet, she misses a stop-sign and crashes head-on into a stopped car at the intersection, putting the driver John Buroughs (played by William Mapother) into a coma and killing his wife and young son instantly.  Rhoda ends up serving 4 years in prison, presumably for DUI and manslaughter. 

After being released and not having really forgiven herself for what she had done, Rhoda takes a job as a janitor in her old high school.  (I just _loved_ the “cleaning lady” symbolism).  By chance, she comes across news that the driver of the car that she had hit had recovered from his coma some time back (apparently she did not learn of this while she was in prison) but that he had withdrawn from life, having given-up on his previous career as a composer and was simply living in an old broken down farmhouse somewhere in the nearby countryside.  She decides to go see him. 

When she arrives, he does not recognize her.  (He had been in a coma during her court proceeding at which she presumably plead guilty, and since she was a minor at the time of the accident her name apparently had not been publicly released).  Introducing herself as a cleaning lady, she offers to clean his home with a one-day-free trial.  He accepts.  Both impressed with her work and remaining utterly depressed (understanding that he was in no shape to take care of himself on his own), he hires her to come once a week to put his wreck of a house in order.

In the meantime, the story of the “Other Earth” does not go away.  Apparently this “Other Earth” was exactly identical to our Earth, only that for some reason had been previously hidden.  Visible now, it also proved not particularly far away (reachable by space flight).  During the course of this time, contact is attempted between this “other Earth” and ours.  When it is established, to _everyone's astonishment_, it is made between two scientists with exactly the same names, born on exactly the same days, one living on one Earth and the other on the other Earth (wow... ;-). 

An Australian sounding entrepreneur decides to build a space-craft that would fly from our Earth to the other one and offers an internet essay contest to _anyone_ who’d like to join him on this expedition.  Rhoda, who had previously wanted to be an astrophysicist, applies, writing a poignant essay recalling that the sailors who had done most of the sailing during the “European Age of Discovery” in the 1500s were "not the princes" but people, like her, at the margins of society, with stories to tell and pasts to expiate.  She of course wins.

In the meantime, as Rhoda cleans up John’s house, his life slowly improves and he starts to “have feelings" for Rhoda.  But of course "he does not know ..." What to do?

The rest of the film has its twists and turns, some rather predicable, some not.  The film has the feel of an old Twilight Zone episode.  And, of course there is a resolution. 

The basis of the story is a play on a theory, which is increasingly capturing the imagination of the public – that of a possibility of the existence of parallel universes, which differ only slightly from our own.  In one (statistical) conception of the theory, at _every point of decision_ that each of us comes to, the universe would split in two.  Presumably the final “outcome” of the Universe made up of all these parallel universes is the sum total of their individual outcomes.

So in this movie, a terrible accident happens just at the discovery of another identical world.  Guess what happened on the other world?

I really liked Another Earth and for _a lot of reasons_:  First, as I’ve written in this blog many times before, I am generally going to be a fan of low budget, independent creativity.  Second, I _really liked_ the theme of this movie of a search for redemption.  I _really liked_ Brit’s symbolic choice of profession (of “cleaning lady”) after returning home from prison.  It reminded me of Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God as “maintenance man” in Bruce Almighty.  Finally, I do hope that a movie like this would encourage _all of us_ think a little, dream a little, reach out a little toward more ultimate questions than those that surround us in simply the day-to-day.  Day-to-day concerns certainly have their place, but they are _invitations_ to reach out to something more.  For we “do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Mt 4:4).

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