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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ANOTHER EARTH -- DVD review by porfle

Scintillating sci-fi elements serve as a backdrop for heartfelt human drama in ANOTHER EARTH (2011), which asks the question: what if there were another you?

Astronomy is the passion of young Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), who is headed for MIT until a drunken drive home from a party lands her a four-year prison stretch for vehicular manslaughter.  Noted classical musician John Burroughs (William Mapother, THE GRUDGE, MOOLA) ends up in a coma, his pregnant wife and five-year-old son dead.  Four years later Rhoda is released on parole, John wakes up, and the mysterious duplicate Earth which appeared in our solar system shortly before their collision is beginning to make contact with us.

The consequences of one reckless moment are portrayed with aching melancholy as Rhoda meanders through her new life as a high school janitor, feeling isolated from her family and former friends, constantly haunted by a paralyzing sadness and guilt.  The only thing that gives her hope is the idea that perhaps on that mirror Earth hanging in the sky she has a twin whose life took a different turn. 

Rhoda then does two things that will change her life.  First, she enters an essay contest in hopes of winning a ticket on a privately-funded spacecraft bound for the other Earth.  Then, posing as a housecleaner, she enters John Burroughs' life and tries to help the devastated, reclusive man any way she can.  While it's no surprise that the two lost souls eventually fall in love, the mutually healing relationship is portrayed with realism and sensitivity and we dread the eventual revelation which will likely destroy it. 

As Rhoda and John's odd romance deepens, the enigma of the mirror Earth takes on added significance when, in a very nicely-handled sequence, the head of SETI makes radio contact with her own duplicate on live television.  Here, ANOTHER EARTH becomes pure science-fiction which is so intriguing that I found myself wishing this aspect could've been developed further rather than merely serving as a metaphorical counterpoint to the main story.  Still, it's enough to keep a constant sci-fi vibe buzzing around in the background, especially with the growing likelihood of Rhoda's impending space flight. 

That such a mind-expanding premise is shown strictly from Rhoda's point of view--we share her sense of wonder as she gazes up at the other world and imagines her mirror self leading a different life--is, in fact, part of what makes the film so uniquely appealing on an emotional level.  We can't help sympathizing with her as she strives to make amends, not just to John but to anyone she can, until a final selfless act offers her the chance for a certain measure of redemption. 

Marling and Mapother give restrained, spot-on performances, handling even the "big" emotional moments with sensitivity and restraint.  Director Mike Cahill avoids melodrama with a naturalistic, non-sensational approach, giving the film a dreamlike stream-of-consciousness quality that flows smoothly from one scene to the next.  Deft use of documentary-style camerawork keeps us in intimate contact with the characters, save for the more formal shots in which we observe them from a distance. 

The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack from 20-Century Fox Home Entertainment is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.  There are no extras on the DVD.  Blu-Ray bonus features include deleted scenes, a music video, "The Science Behind Another Earth", "Creating Another Earth", and three Fox Movie Channel presentations featuring Cahill, Marling, and Mapother.

For a drama dripping with tragedy, despair, doomed love, and hopeless yearning, ANOTHER EARTH is both profound and remarkably subtle.  As science-fiction, it's an irresistible exploration of concepts that should stimulate anyone's imagination.  And in the end, the two intertwine in a way that I found deeply moving.

Buy the DVD/Blu-Ray combo at

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