(director/writer: Mike Cahill; screenwriter: Brit Marling; cinematographer: Mike Cahill; editor: Mike Cahill; music: Fall on Your Sword; cast: William Mapother (John Burroughs), Brit Marling (Rhoda Williams), Kumar Pallana (Purdeep), DJ Flava (Himself), Robin Lord Taylor (Jeff Williams, brother of Rhoda); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Hunter Gray/Mike Cahill/Brit Marling/Nick Shumaker; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2011)

“Enticing but slow-paced indie cerebral sci-fi tale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Mike Cahill, codirector of “Boxers and Ballerinas” with Brit Marling,directs and cowrites with the starring Ms. Marling. This enticing but slow-paced indie cerebral sci-fi tale has a Solaris like story about parallel universes, but not of the same depth. It veers away from defending the plausibility of its science premise to ask the movie’s seemingly more pressing question–that if miraculously given a second chance can a guilt-stricken woman who caused an awful tragedy find salvation?

The 17-year-old Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) is accepted into MIT’s astrophysics program and gets drunk celebrating at a party. While driving drunk, Rhoda tunes into a radio program to hear that scientists have discovered another Earth orbiting the sun. Taking her eyes off the road to look up at the sky, Rhoda crashes into a parked car wrecking a family’s life–killing the pregnant mother, the young son and causing the brilliant Yale music professor and great composer, John Burroughs (William Mapother), to be in a coma.

After serving a four year jail sentence, Rhoda returns to live in the suburbs of New Haven, Connecticut, with her folks, and fails at an insincere suicide attempt. Wanting closure, the self-deprecating woman tracks down the surviving vic, living as a drunken recluse in the countryside outside of New Haven, but fails to apologize to John as planned when she sees he doesn’t realize who she is. Instead the brilliant woman continues to do penance for her wrong-doing by cleaning his house on a weekly basis pretending she was sent there by a cleaning service, and ends up sleeping with the middle-aged wreck.

If that part of the story isn’t absurd enough, the third act has some more absurdities to test your tolerance for such a sketchy unreal story. The felon wins an essay contest and thereby a spot on the shuttle to Earth 2, where it’s confirmed its population are mirror images of those on Earth. At last Rhoda tells John the truth and that truth doesn’t go down well with him. It concludes with an enigmatic Twilight Zone ending, whereby Rhoda meets another Rhoda and supposedly the mirror-images have a lot of shit to talk about.

It’s a gloomy pic and its shaky handheld HD camerawork is more annoyingly aesthetic than pleasingly arty. The other big shortcoming is in the implausible story, built on a fuzzy sense of suggestive reasoning, which might prove that without a lucid screenplay a film has little chance of getting across its arcane points–despite how intellectually and emotionally gratifying it may seem. Also more of an effort should have been made to research the science part of the story, as that could have given its moody melodramatic moments the lift it needed to seem more credible. Nevertheless I can appreciate the effort of the talented filmmaker to explore new dimensions in human behavior that are caused by tragedy. Despite the pic’s enormous plot holes and inability to fully shine a poetic light over its mysteries, there’s still something to muse over in the belief that Earth 1 is where we are all held accountable for our life choices and all have to make hard choices that greatly affect our lives, as it stitches this meditation on altering one’s life on the back of the abstract theoretical aspects of quantum physics.

Another Earth