"In Search of a Superior Conjunction"
I love science fiction movies that ask "What If..." questions, then draw on the possibilities to speculate how it would affect society and the individuals Sounds like any science fiction movie, right? But damned few do it these days, concerned merely with robots and ray-guns and romance in space. They're fantasy films in space.
In string theory (and DC Comics), there is the supposition that there is not just one Universe, but many Universes all contained in the same space (as if infinite space wasn't enough...), in different dimensions, vibrating at different frequencies and merely a stutter away from becoming known to us.* What would happen if the Heavens opened one night and the sky was different?
The night of a celebration for being accepted into M.I.T., Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) hears over the radio that another planet has appeared in the sky—a pale blue dot that one can casually see from the ground. But, smart people can do dumb things. She shouldn't have been drinking and driving, and she shouldn't have been looking at that blue dot, and, instead, concentrated on the red and green dots as she entered an intersection. Quite apart from the sociological impact of another world, her life on Earth is altered irreparably when she slams head-on into the car of the Burroughs family, killing the pregnant Mrs. Burroughs, and the Burroughs child and putting the husband (William Mapother**) into a coma.
She is sentenced to four years in jail for vehicular manslaughter, and when she comes out, there have been some changes: she has a hard case of survivor's guilt, derailing her career in science and, as if in penance, taking a job as a maintenance worker at a local high school, and she's determined to confront John Burroughs—a former composer and music professor, now out of the coma but spiraling into a deep depression—and apologize.
Also, that blue dot in the sky has gotten much. much closer, revealing itself to be not just another life-supporting planet, but Another Earth, and when "first contact" is made, the SETI director making the call receives a reply...from herself...on the other Earth. No, she's not talking to herself, it's not an echo. She's talking to the "other" her. Of course, this causes an uproar as, after all, there's the potential that everyone, on both planets, could be beside themselves. (Sorry...)
A private company is sending a shuttle to that other Earth and Rhoda enters a contest to go there. In the meantime, she meets Burroughs, but things don't go as planned, and over all of it that big ol' Earth is hanging in the sky, beckoning and whispering promises of second chances.
Writer-director Mike Cahill and writer-star Marling have fashioned a small-scale film that considers the Universe. Don't go in expecting rocketships and special effects other than shots of that Earth in a blue sky—this is science fiction sans hardware and blinking lights and back to how people react to "the New." In fact, given the circumstances, the movie would be just as compelling without Sister Earth on the horizon the way Cahill and Marling present the film. But, that other Earth with its parallel lives, adds an interesting element of "What if" already inherently in the story-line. "What if" on that other Earth, the Burroughs and Williams worlds hadn't collided—is it possible that Fate was avoided on that other Earth from that other dimension, and, if so, what would you do about it. When Burroughs asks Rhoda what would she say to her "other" self, he reply is a laconic "Better luck next time..." But "what if" that next time has already happened? Would it be ethical to confront your un-Earthed twin? And...what would you say?
All intriguing questions and the film cagily plays with it and ends with an ambiguous finale that just provokes more questions, yet seems content to end it there without opening up room for a sequel. It's mind-expanding, thought-provoking, yet down-to-Earth, and I found it intriguing and quite well-done.
Another Earth is a Matinee.
* I'm no Science Guy (but I've sound-designed for one on TV), but even a dullard like me knows it's not an orderly Universe—I read the paper, I talk to people. If gravity is such a force in the Universe, wobbling orbits and poking holes in space, what keeps it from affecting the twanging of a Universe from a C# to a C-minor, and causing billions and billions to simultaneously say "There goes the neighborhood." I mean, c'mon, if these were consistent, why did I have to buy this $20 surge protector?
** If that last name sounds familiar, you're right—he's "his" cousin, but a far more subtle actor.
Monday, August 15, 2011