Short review: As a lover of science fiction books and movies, and someone who generally avoids the drama genre (because it’s such a mixed bag), I don’t recommend this movie. Read on for the full review!
Science fiction explores science concepts in story format, and while it bends the rules of science, either the rules are bent plausibly enough that the average reader (or viewer) doesn’t need them explained or the story makes at least some token explanation as to how the rules are plausibly bent. The whole idea is, “It could happen.”
Another Earth doesn’t do any of this. The science fictional idea behind it is that a planet Earth, identical to our own, appears in our sky. If I recall, there’s not much explanation or description around how this came about or any details about the other planet.
After the discovery of the other earth, the plot meanders along and has nothing at all to do with the other planet for which the movie is named! The main character, Rhoda, goes to prison for four years and when she gets out, not much has changed. (This is not a spoiler as this is the very beginning of the movie.) Nobody appears to have taken much interest in the other planet at all. This seems unrealistic.
In fact, there are numerous problems with plausibility in this movie, which even viewers who don’t normally watch science fiction movies might take issue with:
- No mention is made of whether the other planet has also has a moon
- If it does, then what kind of crazy gravitational effects might this cause (e.g. wobbling)?
- If it doesn’t, then it should be pretty clear which planet is the copy and which one is real (an idea that, disappointingly, isn’t even played with in the movie)
- Either way, there should be some strange gravitational changes that might result in at least the moon’s orbit changing, which would cause several effects that would most certainly be noticed over four years (e.g. changes in ocean tides)
- What effects would another planet’s gravitational well have on our orbit around the sun? Our rotation? Our tilt?
- No mention is made of whether the other planet looks exactly like ours (same continents, same shorelines)
- Later, they speculate that people on the other planet were identical to us up to the moment when the two Earths became aware of each other
- Is the other planet rotating the same way, experiencing the same diurnal and seasonal cycle?
- What would result, politically, if another Earth appeared?
- What would the military (of various countries) do?
- Obviously the first spacecraft going to the other planet wouldn’t be a private one involving a contest
A change in scientific principles should provoke the rethinking of the entire fictional universe created for the story, as the change should also affect the people living in that universe. Not so in this movie. In four years’ time, they haven’t made contact with the other planet yet, nor sent over any sort of political or military envoy? Really?
The woman who is apparently the first one to make contact seems utterly shocked that she’s talking to herself. Presumably she and the other people on her team are aware of the fact that the other planet appears to be an identical copy of our own. After four years, they’ve had the chance to examine the other planet, so even if they haven’t made contact with it, the thought has to have crossed her mind that perhaps not just the planet but also the people are copied.
Good stories in general also keep the reader or viewer engaged and immersed. If something in the story triggers a red flag, it takes the reader or viewer out of the story… the story has drawn attention to itself and the audience no longer maintains the necessary suspension of disbelief to enjoy it. The verisimilitude is broken and the story is effectively ruined for all but the most determined reader or viewer.
That was my main problem with this supposed “science fiction” movie — it’s got science fictional elements, but the movie does its very best to ignore them.
WARNING: The paragraphs with asterisks under the image below contain spoilers!
Alternate explorations of the Another Earth idea are after the spoilers, however, if you’d like to jump to that instead.
***Rhoda is a horrible human being, which makes it difficult to empathize with her or to follow her viewpoint for the entire movie. She gets accepted into MIT and then gets behind the wheel intoxicated, kills two people, and puts a third in a coma. But it’s what she chooses to do (and not do) after the fact that really brings her character to light.
***She gets out of prison and is extremely apathetic to the world around her and decides not to pursue higher education (which was her goal at the beginning of the movie). Her only desire seems to be to apologize to John, the man whose family she killed. But she loses her nerve at the last second and lies to him, and he doesn’t recognize her (and since she was a minor at the time, he never knew her name).
***She continues to clean his house to maintain her deceit, taking emotional advantage of him, which finally culminates in their lovemaking. Selfishly, she still can’t confess — not until she wins the prize of traveling to the other Earth. I would guess this is because she feels that traveling to the other planet would give her a second shot at a normal life, so she finally feels safe enough to reveal her secret.
***At the end, she instead gives John the ticket, hoping he might be able to see his family again, which is the sole redeeming factor to her character. Even then, it’s a pretty small band-aid considering the emotional havoc she’s created in his life. Not to mention the fact that even if he saw his wife and child on the other planet, they presumably already have a husband and father (his other self).
***So, the plot of the movie is that a girl kills two people, goes to prison, feels remorse, tries to apologize to the man whose life she screwed over, then she proceeds instead to screw him over in every sense of the word, until she finally tells him the truth and gives him a way out of their toxic relationship and a chance at peace. All of this could have been accomplished without any poorly conceived science fictional elements and it probably would have been a better movie.
Alternate Explorations of This Idea
Any of these “another Earth appears” ideas could have made for a more interesting science fiction movie:
- Man loses his wife and child due to a drunk driver, travels to Another Earth (which is better explained and in greater detail), and gets to see them again, but then has to figure out how he can fit into their lives considering his other self already fills the role of husband/father.
- Another Earth appears, wildly throwing off our orbit, moon cycle, etc. We discover it was a poor attempt of future Earthlings to avoid certain death in their timeline (solar expansion/giant flare/space debris/aliens/take your pick) by transporting to an alternate dimension… which instead landed them here.
- Another Earth appears (which, again, is better explained and in greater detail) and politicians and military groups on both planets take drastic measures to “protect” their Earth.
- Another Earth appears due to a strange overlap in two parts of the multiverse. Scientists discover that the multiverse will somehow un-overlap in x number of days. In the meantime, the two Earths learn that they have extremely different histories, resulting in different modern conditions (cancer is cured?), and they try to share as much information as they can before time’s up.
- Another Earth appears ahead of us in our orbit, with a moon, but far enough away that our moons don’t interfere with on another. Much debate over which planet is the “real” Earth. A huge meteor strikes one of the Earths and destroys much of the life on the planet, prompting the other Earth to lend aid.
- Another Earth appears, but is devoid of human life, and there is no fossil record of humans at all…