Academic Writing

Friday, September 09, 2011

Another Earth

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Ever wonder what it would be like to know there was someone out there exactly like you, with the same experiences, emotions, and backgrounds you had? Someone who you could talk to and could relate exactly to you? On the one hand that would be so exciting to have someone who knows you as only you could. However, on the other hand what would that mean about your sense of self. This film asks, what is “the self” and how do you define yourself and your individual identity if there’s more than one of you?

Another Earth attempts to explore some of those issues. The story which surrounds this exploration involves Rhoda (Brit Marling), a 21 year old who was recently released from jail after driving drunk and killing a woman and her young son. Plagued with guilt, Rhoda tracks down the surviving husband to attempt to make amends. Unable to admit her misdeed to the bereaved father and widower, she makes up an excuse that she’s a housecleaner there to offer a free trial cleaning service. He accepts, and their lives once again become intertwined.

The night of Rhoda’s accident was also the night that Earth 2, as it was called, was discovered. This recently discovered planet seems to be very similar to “our” Earth, and becomes a point of instant fascination about what could be up there. By the time she is out of jail, Earth 2 has become both the target of scientific fascination as well as pop-culture interest. It has been discovered that Earth 2 is a mirror image of our Earth, with the same ecological and biological make-ups and as it turns out, another version of each human on Earth 1. An eccentric Australia millionaire (might as well have been Richard Branson) hosts a writing contest where one entrant will win a trip to Earth 2 to see exactly what's there. Initially hesitant, Rhoda eventually enters the contest to escape the world she’s in and find out if her “other self” has a better life up there.

At its heart, this film is about second chances and redemption. Rhoda is drawn to the man whose life she all but destroyed, doing her best to make amends while not having the ability to actually tell him why she’s there. John Burroughs (William Mapother), the beleaguered father, is trapped in his own misery unable to find a way out. The two are able to help one another, despite the heavy secret that lies between them.

Having only the best intentions, this film is stuffed with heavy themes ranging from the aforementioned identity and individuality to free will versus Divine Providence, being alone versus being lonely, and redemption and second chances. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the chance to really flesh them out fully. Probably due to budget constraints as Another Earth was filmed on a shoestring budget and one of the most “indie” films I've ever seen, but it left me wanting more of a deeper exploration into these questions it brings up. Many of the issues are mentioned in passing and offered as something for the audience to think about, but the film itself doesn’t actually offer a thought or idea about them. Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about issues of identity and our place in this universe. Would there be a practical difference in our lives if another inhabitable planet was discovered with people on it who share our experiences? Is there another me out there who has managed to “do it” better than me and is more successful and happier even though she had been given the same opportunities as me?

Another issue that lies beneath the surface of the film and is never directly addressed is the issue of which Earth are these characters on? Are we egocentric enough to think they are on our planet? Or perhaps, the whole point of the movie is that we are in fact on Earth 2 and they are Earth 1. In one moment of the film Burroughs exclaims, “Do you think they are up there thinking they are Earth 2? No, they think they are Earth 1!” As humans we seem so captivated by the notion that there is life out there that we’re going to find. We assume we’re the smart, superior beings who will track others down. Maybe, however, and I think this film forces us to think about this, there are others who are looking for us and we aren’t the last word in existence. Overall, the film offers a lesson in humility and being humble despite whatever greatness you believe you deserve or are headed towards. Rhoda has been accepted to MIT the night of the crash. In the opening voice over she talks about how that night the world was hers for the taking and she could go anywhere she wanted to. Burroughs was a Yale professor and famous musician before the crash left him coma-ridden for years and unable to continue his work.

One’s world can change in an instant, and ultimately, the message that I felt that this film offered was to not take what you have for granted appreciate it and honor it. One can always ask the “what ifs” – what if I had done something differently? What if I hadn’t been offered certain opportunities? What if there was someone out there who really understood me that could help me through whatever it is I am going through? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Rhoda was so concerned about what was up there in the night sky when she crashed. Yes, she had been drinking, but she was also staring out the window at the newly discovered planet. Her mind was filled with the “what ifs” and that’s what literally caused her to veer off course and send her life into a whole new direction, lacking the promise she once had.

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