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Movie Review

Another Earth

Humanity, forgiveness orbit ‘Another Earth’

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / July 29, 2011

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‘Another Earth’’ is being sold as an indie sci-fi drama, but that does both the movie and its proper audience a disservice. This muted story of atonement, forgiveness, and parallel universes is more of an extended metaphor - a work of earnest poetry rather than science.

A young woman driving home tipsy from a party hears a news bulletin that a planet identical to ours has suddenly appeared in the sky close to Earth. She cranes her head out the window for a look, failing to see the car carrying a family at the stoplight ahead . . .

Cut to four years later, and Rhoda (Brit Marling) is getting out of prison, her once-promising life in ruins. Crushed by her responsibility for the deaths of the mother and young son in the car, she tries to fall between the cracks, taking a night job as a school janitor and stalking John (William Mapother), the father who survived the crash.

She’s also looking longingly at that alt-Earth hanging in the sky like a ripe plum, especially when it becomes apparent that it’s our own planet’s double to the extent of having carbon copies of each one of us. Or are we the copies? And does the fact that there’s another you mean that you have another chance?

The metaphysics stay mostly in the background of “Another Earth,’’ which is more taken up with the damaged romance that slowly grows between Rhoda and the grief-stricken John. Arriving at his door intending to apologize, she ends up becoming his cleaning lady, which is only slightly more far-fetched than a second Earth appearing out of nowhere. Since John doesn’t know who she really is, Rhoda’s crime is compounded by the day, and that knowledge sits on her like a stone. No wonder she enters a contest to be among the first team to visit the new planet. “What would you say if you met yourself?’’ John asks. “Better luck next time,’’ she answers.

The movie is the feature debut of Mike Cahill, and it shows - the camerawork in “Another Earth’’ is at times shockingly awkward, and the pacing can feel more glum than observant. As rigorous sci-fi, of course, the movie doesn’t hold up for a second. For one thing, wouldn’t a large planet that close to ours wreak just a bit of havoc on the gravitational forces keeping us spinning through the sky?

The only gravity in “Another Earth’’ is in the dialogue and the long, pained looks the two leads give each other. Marling has been getting the bulk of publicity, since she co-wrote the script with Cahill and co-produced the film and because she’s a hot blonde in a soft, intelligent way. Her performance is careful and it builds up a believable head of steam, but Mapother gives the tougher, more convincing performance. He just couldn’t convince me John wouldn’t know who this mysterious interloper was, let alone fall for her.

“Another Earth’’ winds its way to a pretty good twist and an even better final image, suggesting that to err is human and to forgive is out of this Earth. But for all the heavenly marvels on display, the most resonant scene is the one where John, a modern composer, takes Rhoda to hear a performance by an artist playing a musical saw. The eerily beautiful sounds cascade and twist though the air, sounding like the precise halfway point between the music of the spheres and a human sob.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/tyburr.

ANOTHER EARTH Directed by: Mike Cahill

Written by: Cahill and Brit Marling

Starring: Marling, William Mapother

At: Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner

Running time: 92 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (disturbing images, some sexuality, nudity, and drug use)

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