Directed by Mike Cahill
Starring Brit Marling, William Mapother
What if a doppelganger of the Earth materialized out of nowhere with the exact same geography, people and history as our planet? That is the audacious sci-fi premise of “Another Earth,” and yet the story, somehow, is not as far-fetched as it sounds.
Brit Marling stars as Rhoda, a pretty high school senior whose promising future as an MIT student is destroyed when she gets into a drunk driving accident, killing a pregnant woman and her young son.
Four years later, after serving time in prison, Rhoda works as a janitor, lives with her parents and trudges around in drab, baggy garb. One day she visits John Burroughs (William Mapother), the lone survivor of the crash, with the intention of apologizing. At the last minute, though, she chickens out and pretends to be a maid for hire.
The accident has turned John into a moody hermit, but as Rhoda puts in her weekly housecleaning time, a camaraderie develops between the two. The longer she refrains from disclosing who she is, the more disquieting her deception becomes.
All the while, the doppelganger Earth looms in the sky. You hear the occasional scientific explanation about how the mysterious planet to be, but the most salient role that this twin Earth plays is as Rhoda’s potential salvation — early on, she enters an essay contest to snag a seat on the first ship to the twin planet.
The existence of a second Earth is never really plausible, but somehow director Mike Cahill and Marling have co-written a story where plausibility is not especially important. The second Earth is sci-fi set dressing, a bold what-if scenario that offers our heroine an unusual path to atonement.
“Another Earth” is not a particularly moving story — the ambient mood is too sterile, the writing a bit formulaic. What wins you over, though, is Marling’s performance. Like Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” she’s a pretty, gritty, stoic actress who can singlehandedly elevate a movie.