Review: Another Earth

By now you may already know this mysterious film called Another Earth, that was a Sundance darling and is now being touted as the best indie drama released this year. For all I know, it very well is. But essentially the story of Another Earth is simply that of Rhoda (Brit Marling), an MIT-bound young woman who after a night of celebration makes a bad decision that ends up changing (ruining?) her life and the lives of the Burroughs family forever (forever?).

And of course, there’s that second earth. In fact, the moment Rhoda sticks her head out of the car window to search for this amazing sight is when the course of her foreseeable future was altered. Over the years, the second earth grows bigger in the sky, until it ultimately just becomes a part of everyone’s reality. No longer on the road to college, Rhoda becomes a janitor at the local high school, everyday seeing the second earth. People don’t really talk about it, scientists continue to study its strange presence, but there doesn’t appear to be any threat, and life goes on as usual.

It isn’t until Rhoda visits the composer-turned-recluse John Burroughs (William Mapother) that the second earth begins to spark questions within Rhoda that force her to contemplate whether second chances are possible. Rhoda intends to make amends for her mistakes by seeing Burroughs, but instead she lies about belonging to a maid service, and ends up cleaning his house all the while getting closer to a man who doesn’t know who she is, and could never forgive her for what she did to his family. In the end, she makes the only choice she knows will allow Burroughs to find closure, and possibly a new life that begins, ironically, with the one he lost.

Sci-fi films generally have the difficult task of balancing often complicated metaphysical plot lines with characters that spout more than just mind numbing exposition. Few films succeed in the act, and more times than not audiences are dazzled by images rather than story or character development. Another Earth represents the beginning of something that I hope becomes a trend in both indie and blockbuster sci-fi dramas: an unpretentious film that doesn’t get too mired down in being “smart.”*

This isn’t to say that Another Earth doesn’t possess intelligence, or that it doesn’t take its science fiction aspects seriously. In many ways, by not delving too deep into the reasons why there is suddenly a second earth, the film can explore subjects that are not present in most traditional science-fiction films that are often too involved with thwarting some dangerous threat to human existence. The second earth is merely a metaphor that represents all mankind’s yearning for second chances, the belief that maybe another me, in another place, got it right, and maybe I can too.

Another Earth spends a lot of time asking questions, providing intriguing theories and hints, while simultaneously backing off. Sometimes the theories seem to only be present in order to further the plot, or offer a reason behind a character’s actions. This is certainly the case at the end of the film when Rhoda, after hearing one scientist on TV discuss his theory on the presence of the second earth, gives up her shot at a new life to give Burroughs another shot at his. The ending of the film is an interesting twist that may raise even more questions, but for me, it actually answered the presence of the second earth, and the purpose of the film. Other viewer experiences may vary.

Another Earth suffers from a few problems, including what many have cited as sloppy camera work and low production values. It’s true that some of the hand- held camera work can be distracting, but at times it gives the film its necessary gritty atmosphere. I enjoyed Brit Marling as Rhoda, perhaps because it reminded me so much of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in Winter’s Bone (two long blonde-haired beauties in crappy situations).

Also, what little science the film does present is often contradictory, vague, and leaves many questions unanswered. But isn’t that sometimes the case with science? Have sci-fi movies filled our heads with notions of tightly wrapped packages of information where everything has an answer, and everything can be explained for the sake of the plot? This is hardly ever the case, and I think this film recognizes that great scientific phenomena can occur everyday, but life also continues. Life adapts to science, it adapts to giant planets in the sky, it adapts to discoveries that may pose threats or offer freedom. We’re not all running around trying to find a rock to hide under. SPOILER ALERT: And when Rhoda sees herself from Earth 2, I believe she met a woman who found her second chance, and it didn’t come with a degree from MIT necessarily, but from the ability to adapt to the consequences of choices made, good and bad, and the strength to perservere.

*Inception is a film that has unfortunately suffered some backlash mainly because its intelligence overshadowed pretty much everything else the film had to offer. It’s no easy feat explaining the theory behind “inception,” or even the science behind dreaming itself in a way that an audience can digest quickly and still keep up with the action. And what’s more, such a film will separate sci-fi enthusiasts and the rest of us: “Oh, you didn’t understand the point of the spinning top at the end? I guess you just don’t get it.”

19 thoughts on “Review: Another Earth

  1. Can the same be said (“an unpretentious film that doesn’t get too mired down in being “smart”) about Lars von Trier’s similar (in basic premise — the delivery is entirely different) Melancholia? To “appearing planet” film has had a resurgence as of late — haha

    Great review!

    • Based on what I have read about Melancholia I would agree with you that similar ties could be made! I’m intrigued to see where this film trend takes us 🙂 Thank you for reading!

      • I’m looking forward to seeing Melancholia as well. My excitement in this trend lies more in the general sense that sic-fi films can be made with great effects for cheaper and cheaper, allowing indie filmmakers to explore this genre as well. Based on Another Earth, Moon, District 9, and Monsters, this is a trend worth embracing!

  2. I have a different take on the ending. SPOILER ALERT!! The fact that Rhoda came to earth from planet 2 suggests that the fatal accident did not take place up there, that Burroughs wasn’t given the ticket on planet 2 because his family did not parish. So, I believe the point is that we are not given second chances and that we are victims/heros based on choices and circumstance. Planet 1 Rhoda is not given a second chance, nor is Burroughs. What they are given is assurance that somewhere, on a planet faraway, folks similar to them are leading different lives based on their own choices and circumstances, and by the look of things they are leading better lives on planet 2. This may provide them with a measure of comfort, but it’s far short of a second chance.

    • I actually agree more with your interpretation of the ending. Earth-2 Rhoda is dressed a lot nicer, so I image she got on the shuttle because of her studies at MIT, rather than getting the ticket because she screwed up.

      There a lot of possibilities here, and I love a movie that has both a satisfying resolution, but also makes me think about the possibilities of what comes after.

      Thanks for reading/commenting!

  3. I said to my girlfriend halfway through that if she does go, then the earth 2 version of her would show up here. However the director said all the answers are “in the movie.” My girl also commented on the fact that Earth 2 Rhoda was dressed nicer but that doesnt mean anything. They wouldnt send her dressed like a janitor would they? So here’s my interpretation. The scientist with the Broken Mirror theory was right. Everything was synced until we discovered Earth 2 and then once we were able to wonder about it, we were then desynced. Sorta like the observer changing the experiment in the double slit experiment. Earth 2 Rhoda looked very happy to see her Earth 1 self. I dont think Earth 2 Rhoda had the accident. She probably went to MIT and came to Earth 1 as an opposite version of herself. Earth 1 Rhoda saw Earth 2 for the first time right before her accident and hence desynced. I would have preferred if John had shown up at the end leaving the simpler question…..did John for E1 not go and stayed behind for her or Did E2 john come here looking for his wife only to find she was still dead and then looked for Rhoda?

  4. Definitely a good theory. There’s a lot of aspects to this film, and I love how most of the speculation about the ending revolves around the character drama as much as the science aspects…

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Here is what happened at the end…

    Earth 2 Rhoda didn’t give up her ticket (for whatever reason). So, she is now on Earth 1. Rhoda from Earth 1 is like, “oh snap, what is wrong with me” (from Earth 2). And then Rhoda from Earth 2 is like, “you gave up your ticket… wow, am I selfish or what.” So they are both left feeling pretty crappy about themselves.

    • That’s actually a pretty interesting theory-the more I read about other opinions the more I want to see the film again. Thanks for reading and taking the time to share.

  6. Actually it’s extremely intriguing to discover how many people view it differently. Here, let me share my take on this. To me, I believe that the Theory on Broken theory was the key to unlock the various opinion people shared on the ending. My assumption is, that Rhodha 1 was de-synced with Rhoda 2 during the accident. While they were de-synced,I believe that the subjects around her too have been de-synced as they were elements of the accident. Thereby, effectively a different live may be lived from the point of the accident. The composer might have been dead along with the family, or they could have survived. Either way, Rhoda 2 becomes affected and seeks remedy in the form of escapism to Earth 1. There we have the both the Rhoda’s meeting.

    It’s a very complex ending, opens up to the many possibilities. Good movie, an absolute thought provoking one too.

  7. I just watched this. Very different. I knew nothing about it until a chance mention from a friend i believe has good taste, so i didn’t know what to expect. I’m a Black African and because of cultural differences, some of the storyline did not resonate with me as deeply as it should have. However, the universal principle is the same….how do you forgive yourself for something you believe is unforgivable. I think the writers did a very good job of crafting together a very human story set against the backdrop of something that i personally believe torments everybody…choices…and what will our life be like if we made different ones. To see what we will be like.
    Earth 2 here offers a very strong pull.
    My only problem with the film was the issue of synchronism. I can believe that another planet with similar conditions for life existed, and evolution occurred, but to imagine that every single person from the beginning of time made the exact same decisions and choices that the people on earth 1 made is pretty far fetched to me.
    But it certainly is a thought provoking film and i will certainly be recommending it.
    On the ending, i think Earth 2 John coming back will have been a more satisfying and commercially viable ending, as it will have given the hope of new love to our battered leads, but it’s still good.

  8. I think the fact that earth 2 Rhoda shows up must mean the accident didn’t occur on earth 2. This must also give her comfort as Burroughs will have met his opposite and his earth 2 family. Just knowing his son and daughter are alive and well on earth 2 must give him some kind of peace. Forget about the improbable physics involved in this movie, if u get hung up on that you’re missing the point!! It’s a well acted and well told story, simple as.

  9. “everyday seeing the second Earth”?
    “gives the film it’s necessary…”?
    (i.e.   “gives the film it is necessary” ?!?!)

    I enjoyed the content of your article but if you can’t be bothered with proof reading or, worse, you don’t know when to use its vs it’s, maybe you should get someone to check your work before you post it.  You’re (notice not “your”) just spreading the problem and I fear that others may think your (see how easy this is?) usage is correct just because you’re a “writer” and both adopt and promulgate the incorrect spelling.  Thank you, though, for a decent review. 

  10. Maybe they both have the accident, except on Earth2 the wife lives instead of John 2 as Rhoda 2 hits the other side of the families car because of the mirror effect.

    Rhoda 1 suddenly realizes this could be possible so trades places with John 1. That way husband 1 and wife 2 get a second chance and live happily ever after on Earth 2.

    When both Rhoda’s meet, Rhoda 1 realizes she might be right as Rhoda 2 is dressed slightly differently. I like to think she is, and that team Rhoda live happily ever after on Earth 1.

    However I think Rhoda 1 was in jail for 4.5 years(?) or something which is the time period to go through college (Rhoda 2) so who knows??????

  11. I just saw this movie, and the ending seems to indicate: (SPOILER) She DID crash in the other reality also. the deviation to the timestream doesn’t occur till after she was DRUNK and already driving.. she hit the other car at a slightly different angle, killed the DRIVER of the car, leaving the other 2 alive ;). stricken by grief she still signs up for the contest but is obviously unable to ‘fall in love’ with john and offer him the ticket, so she goes on the journey herself. I think if she was going to another planet she could easily get hold of a slightly nicer coat 😉

    So the happy ending is, john arrives on the other planet to find his wife and child, rhoda arrives to find herself.. some lucky guy picks up two very attractive low self estate women who are great at cleaning and he lives happily ever after

  12. Good Lord..okay, so I”m watching and right where he says “don’t go” and she starts the story of “there once was a girl” blah blah blah…Okay, I get it (had already got it actually) she did it..THEN THE CABLE WENT OUT…so, I’m thinking HE went to Earth 2 (she gave him her ticket, right?) But then what? Basically, does every one live happily ever after? The Indian, what’s up with the Indian? She wrote in his hand what? Forgive? Forget? Does it matter?

    And when you go to Earth 2, what happens to the YOU on Earth 2? Woudn’ t they have to switch places? Did Earth 1 Rhoda stay on Earth 1 but Earth 2 Rhoda then went to Earth 1? So now on Earth 1 there are TWO Rhodas? (not a good name actually for that character, sorry, just didn’t work but anyway)…the acting between the primary characters was good which drew me in but damn cable..and the movie really wasn’t good enough to watch again…In fact I only started watching when she was cleaning his house and he asked her to play the boxing video game…

    Any understandable synopsis of the ending would be greatly appreciated. Thanks…

    Spoilers invited PLEASE….

    • I know these responses are from a year ago but since it’s on HBO now maybe the thread will come alive again…I hope…at least don’t leave me hanging….OH and just in the end, who was where and with whom?

  13. We know the Rhoda’s meeting was never explained in the movie but the “mirror image” theory she learned on TV, that part, I believe was meant to be true. Which is the Earth’s synchronicity was broken the day Earth 2 was discovered. Exactly why the Rhoda’s met and what happened with John, there is more than one plausible theory, as was discussed here, just as the film makers intended. Overall a very compelling movie despite the ambiguous ending.

  14. Everyone seems to have the happy ending perspective but my interpretation of the ending is a little different. First, the scientist theory reveals that the two Earths were synced until they discovered each other. After the discovery the two Earth’s had the ability to make changes or deviate from each other, as evidenced by the lady having a conversation with her other self. Hence, after discovery there is the ability for the two same but separate people to make different choices, now that the “mirror has been shattered”. Second, Rhoda’s entire motivation for wanting to go to the other Earth (2) is born out of her depression and guilt for what she has done on this Earth (1) and that she cannot forgive herself. Her depression makes her not fear the potential consequences, including death, which makes her a perfect candidate. A 21 year old, recent MIT graduate is NOT a perfect candidate because she has too much to live for and too much to lose. But a severely depressed, ex-convict, who doesn’t fear death because of her guilt and has the IQ of a MIT student is perfect! That’s why she was chosen over all the other presumably qualified (even MIT) applicants. So her tragic experience is both her motivation to leave and the reason she is selected to leave! That’s key. The only thing that can give her more comfort than leaving Earth 1 behind, is the possibility that John’s family is still alive on Earth 2. That’s why she gives John the ticket, to try to make amends for her horrible mistake by giving John the possibility of seeing his family again. Sadly, when she sees herself at the end, she realizes that the same tragedy that drove her to want and be selected to leave Earth 1 is what drove the “other Rhoda” to want and to be selected to leave Earth 2. Which means, as John goes to Earth 2 he will find that his family is still dead, along with Rhoda’s hope for redemption. The only difference between Rhoda 1 & 2 is that Rhoda 1 chose to give up her ticket and Rhoda 2 chose to keep hers and runaway from her pain on Earth 2. I know its not the happy ending we love hear, but it is a beautifully tragic human drama.

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