There's a difference between thinking big thoughts and telling a profound story, a difference that has escaped writer-director William Cahill with his film, Another Earth.
Of course, he's got a serious problem right from the start, with a leading actress whose performance is wooden and amateurish. Her name is Brit Marling and, based on her work in Another Earth, she's not going to be setting the world on fire anytime soon.
At least this world. Who knows what might happen on that other Earth that looms in the sky all through this film.
That's the premise: That, out of nowhere, a second Earth suddenly has appeared, large and luminous in the sky, closer than any other planet -- so close that we can not only see that it is a virtual mirror image of our own planet -- right down to the location of the cities -- but we can communicate with them. And what they're telling us is that they are almost a perfect mirror of our planet. Almost -- but not quite.
The film starts on the night that the new Earth -- which we dub Earth 2 because, of course, we're No. 1! -- is discovered. It's also the night that a high-school girl named Rhoda (Marling, seen briefly so the fact that she's too old for this role won't be so obvious) is partying to celebrate her acceptance to MIT. Driving drunk on her way home, she hears about Earth 2 on the radio and, while craning her neck out the car window to see it, she drifts across the center line and slams head-on into a car sitting at a deserted intersection.
The car belongs to a college professor named Robert (William Mapother); he survives the crash in a coma, but his wife and young son are killed. Rhoda goes to jail instead of MIT. Cut to four years later when she's released and he's now awake.
As penance, rather than going to college, she goes to work as a high-school janitor, turning herself into a faceless drone instead of trying to restart her life. But she's haunted by her deed and so travels to New Haven to find Robert and apologize. She loses her nerve and, instead, becomes his cleaning lady and then his lover. Yeah, that makes sense.
This trope -- the lovers who will be torn asunder by the secret that one of them harbors -- is a familiar one and Cahill has little new to say about it. Instead, it's just the struggle of guilt and love by Rhoda, as she leads Robert into the relationship that will allow him to start his life over. As if her secret wouldn't tear them apart, she's also applied to win a free seat that's being offered in a contest on the commercial space shuttle to Earth 2.
The big thoughts here have to do with the mirror nature of the planets and what it means to us, knowing that we're no longer unique -- or alone in the universe. (Alone -- get it?) What does it do to our collective psyche when we find out that there's a whole other planet that's been sending messages into space asking, "Hello -- anybody out there?"
But the ideas are almost as undeveloped as the drama and romance. Mapother (who is a cousin of Tom Cruise) is a competent but unremarkable actor. But he's certainly more interesting than Marling, who mopes through this film like a supermodel who's just been told she needs to lose weight.
Another Earth is a world too far. As a special effect, that full Earth in the sky makes a pretty leaden metaphor.
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