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Fox Searchlight Pictures

Another Earth

Movies | The sci-fi film explores the possibilities of a second, identical earth

Issue: "Face-off," Aug. 13, 2011

At first glance, Brit Marling seems to be just another Hollywood beauty. Typecasting her, though, would be a mistake. She not only stars in the heady, smart, independent sci-fi film Another Earth, she co-wrote it.

Plus, she's a bit of a philosopher.

"Everybody is trying to get at the source of 'Who are we and what are doing here?'" she told me when we talked in Washington, D.C. "Science goes at one angle. Religion, theology goes at another, philosophy at another and everyone's trying to arrive at the same place."

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"And art is trying to take it all together," chimed in Mike Cahill, her co-writer and director.

In Another Earth, winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Marling plays Rhoda, a smart young woman whose lofty astrophysics dreams are shattered when she drunkenly crashes into a family sedan, killing the wife and children of John Burroughs (William Mapother). Rhoda emerges from prison with a deep sense of responsibility to help the man she devastated.

Her passion for space, however, is heightened by the sudden emergence of a second earth hanging in the sky. Identical in nearly every detail, a duplicate Rhoda and John live on that distant planet. "Everybody can relate to this idea of a second chance or alternate outcome," said Marling. "There's this choice that they made and that they wonder if it had been different what would have happened."

A deep sense of sadness surrounds Rhoda and John, giving the movie a melancholy tone. With a focus on their grief and the alternate planet used as a philosophical discussion launcher, the film moves slowly.

That's fine with Marling and Cahill, because the movie explores ideas instead of launching explosions. To them the questions of science echo the questions of the human heart. "We want to know if in the cosmos we are alone," Cahill said, "but we also want to know as individuals if we are alone."

Rated PG-13, the movie has some disturbing images of the crash and a sexual scene.

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