There are some cerebral questions at hand in “Another Earth,” the Sundance Film Festival award-winner that opens in Wichita today.
And while the sci-fi film’s premise is certainly novel, it’s not really what the film is about. Rather, it follows a very intimate story of tragedy that unfolds against the backdrop of a forever changing universe.
The story starts on a historical day — another planet that seems to be a mirror image of Earth has just been discovered.
This news is announced just as Rhoda (mesmerizing newcomer Brit Marling) is accepted into MIT’s astrophysics program.
So she hits a party to celebrate. And as she is heading home too drunk to drive, she accidentally hits another car with tragic results.
Fast-forward four years, as Rhoda is being released from prison. She’s obviously consumed with guilt, and has trouble getting back into a normal routine.
She finds work cleaning at a local school, but it doesn’t distract her thoughts. She eventually does some investigating and finds the man, John (William Mapother), who was driving the car that she hit.
She tracks down his house in the country, and shows up to find him drinking his pain away. She’s there to apologize, but loses her nerve. So she poses as a maid, and begins regularly cleaning his house.
They slowly become friends, her real identity still a secret. But things get complicated when they venture into deeper feelings.
Meanwhile, it’s discovered that the other planet, which is dubbed “Earth2,” could perhaps not only be a mirror image of Earth, but also of its inhabitants. Could everyone have an identical being?
And, Rhoda wonders, is that life better than the one she’s living?
Eventually, the truth about her past rises to the surface when Rhoda is given the chance to go on the maiden voyage to Earth2, as John grapples with the reality of who she is.
Much like last year’s indie “Monsters,” where we follow two bickering lovers as they try to find alien creatures in Mexico, “Another Earth” is more concerned with melodrama than action. It sometimes trades plot for dreamy atmospherics.
Marling is captivating to watch, though, burying her pain so deep inside it seeps out only in her facial expressions. We feel for her.
But the overall premise — while wholly intriguing — is never fully explored or explained. Why is the identical planet suddenly just visible in the sky, hanging like another moon?
Still, the film is original, and sticks with you. It’s brainy and ambitious, and it mostly pulls off its idea. It asks that we go along with it, and we do for the sake of the characters.
Rating: PG-13 (disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity and brief drug use)
Starring: Brit Marling, William Mapother
Directed by: Mike Cahill
Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)