Saturday, August 02, 2014

Another Earth = Hah! No Retreat!

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

One of my pet peeves about movies is how a driver will often have a conversation with a passenger and, in the process, totally ignore the road for entire seconds at a time.  Being a driver, I know that it’s impossible to take your eyes off the road for more than a fraction of a second.  Another Earth starts with such a situation.  Rhoda Williams is driving home from a party after being accepted to MIT.  On the radio, a DJ announces that an Earthlike planet has been spotted and can be seen from where she is as a small blue dot, which she immediately starts looking for.  She has hit the trifecta of being 17, drunk and distracted.  It’s not long before she gets into an accident, putting the driver, John Burroughs, in a coma and killing his wife and son.

Cut to four years later.  Rhoda is getting out of jail.  She’s picked up by her parents and brother, who take her home.  She gets a job as a janitor in a local school.  It’s not the scientific career she once might have dreamed of, but it’s something.  (Her trying to find this job is the only time someone seriously tries to persuade her to go into something academic or intellectual.)  Rhoda still feels guilt over what she did.  She manages to find out where John lives.  He’s since recovered, but has no idea who she is.  (Since she was a minor, her name was withheld from the public.)

She makes it all the way to his door.  She knocks, but when he answers, she can’t do it.  She instead claims to be from a cleaning service offering free trials.  She pushes just hard enough to make him refuse.  He does call her back because of that “free” part and has her clean part of his house.  She does it because she’s not quick enough to get out of it.  This begins a strange, if ill-advised, relationship.

You’re probably wondering where this second Earth comes in.  It’s constantly in the background, but plays a very minor part in the story.  Rhoda and John talk about it occasionally.  John has a telescope and looks at it, seeing familiar landmasses.  Rhoda even enters a contest to go to the other Earth.  Mostly, the movie is about the two of them and how they get along.  It is eventually discovered that the inhabitants are basically duplicate versions of ourselves.  It looks like their lives may have diverged from ours the moment that the two Earths came close to each other, so it’s possible that the other Rhoda never crashed into the other John.

Because of this, the movie seems to drag a lot.  At least, it did for me.  After the accident, Rhoda can’t really resume her old life.  After the coma, John seems to lose the will to do much outside of a bottle.  There’s a slow progression of John getting off the couch and Rhoda starting to find a new purpose.

The movie does call for a good deal of suspension of disbelief.  There’s no explanation of or speculation on how the other Earth came to our solar system.  It’s implied that the planet somehow was moved, which would require a great deal of energy.  If a planet were moved in such a fashion, I don’t imagine the inhabitants would enjoy it .  It would probably be a very rough ride and would begin and end with everyone being thrown around.

Even ignoring that, a second Earth would undoubtedly have an effect on our planet.  There’s no mention of any effect on our orbit or tides.  I did, however, notice a very conspicuous absence of our moon.  (It looks like the other Earth brought its moon, though.)  Also, how is it that the alternate Earth ended up being far enough away from both our Earth and the sun?  It would have been a shame if it got too close to us and crashed or was too far away from the sun and everyone froze.  They do talk about the effects of going over, such as solar radiation and being in zero gravity.  The writers did at least have some sense of the need for research.

I know, I’m a stickler for scientific details.  As I said, it‘s mostly about the relationship between Rhoda and John.  Rhoda’s family doesn’t even seem to ask her why she’s coming and going at all hours of the night.  I remember first hearing about the movie, thinking that we were going to see a lot of people meeting themselves or about some great culture shock or something.  I was hoping that there would be more about the other Earth.  I wonder how many people won’t rent this thinking that it will be some science-fiction movie.  I was kind of let down that it wasn’t. 

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