Space Oddity

Pack your bags for an art-house mind-blower

Movies can't just blow your mind with zooming X-Wings anymore. They need to blow it on a completely different level, with a totally mind-fucking story to go along with all the fancy CGI effects. From The Matrix's bit-rate reality to Donnie Darko's time-traveling teenage angst to Inception's multilevel dreamscapes, it's just as much about assaulting your brain as your senses these days.

In the opening scene of the low-budget, pretentious, and art-house version of a mind-blower Another Earth, graduating high-schooler Rhoda Williams (played by the movie's co-writer, Brit Marling) spends a night partying with friends. She caps her celebration by drunkenly plowing her car into a family at a stoplight. By the time Rhoda is released from prison four years later, an alternate planet — which looks exactly like Earth and, from all appearances, is an alternate Earth — has surfaced in the sky.

Rhoda's a smart girl, but as a form of personal penance she takes a job as a school janitor, mopping floors and scrubbing toilets. She's still haunted by what happened, so one day she musters the courage to track down the only survivor of the accident: John Burroughs, a former college music professor who's a drunken mess ever since his son and pregnant wife died.

She doesn't tell him who she is. Instead she starts cleaning his house, and slowly a relationship begins. Rhoda also enters an essay contest to be a passenger on the first flight to Earth II. To her surprise — being an ex-con and all — she wins and begins prepping for her big day.

There's no big spectacle to Another Earth, despite its bizarre premise. It's a quiet, reflective, personal drama wrapped in the hue of a sci-fi parable. In fact, the movie's otherworldly shadings are almost a subplot to the philosophical rambling about starting over. And like any mind-blower worth its plot twists, Another Earth opens itself up to a whole lot of questions.

The issues here go deep: Is there another person, exactly like you, out there somewhere in the cosmos? And if so, did she make the same mistakes in her life? Director Mike Cahill (the other co-writer) slowly layers the big questions as he peels away the existential hearts of the characters. Too bad Another Earth gets so caught up in its heavy-handedness and ends just when it gets interesting.

Probing, pretentious, and most of all talky, the movie is stuffed with allegorical characters and metaphorical plot devices. Everything means something; cleaning houses isn't just about cleaning houses. John's musical-saw performance isn't just about him getting his life back in order. And the mounting paranoia surrounding Earth II means a whole lot more than little green men attacking our world. What's out there? And do we really want to know? For a movie filled with so much implausibility, Another Earth takes itself way too seriously.

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