SPOILER: Seventeen year-old Rhoda Williams receives an acceptance letter from MIT and she celebrates with her friends. On the same night, a planet similar and close to Earth is discovered and called Earth 2. Rhoda drives her car looking at Earth 2 and crashes with composer John Burroughs, killing his pregnant wife and his baby son. Rhoda goes to prison and four years later she is released and moves to her parents’ house. She finds a job as high-school janitor, but tries to commit suicide. She survives, however, and submits an essay to a contest where the prize is a ticket to travel to Earth 2. Meanwhile the scientists discover that Earth 2 is a mirror of Earth and the synchronicity between the dwellers was interrupted when the planets were seen by each other. One day, Rhoda decides to visit John Burroughs, whose life was destroyed after the death of his family, to admit to him that she had killed his family. However she does not have the nerve to tell him the truth. So she lies and …
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
User Reviews: There are more than a couple of things going on here. For the casual viewer, this may be invisible to the naked eye. Having said that, if you pay a little attention, you will not only comprehend its core message, you will begin to truly appreciate the concept behind its making. Do not be thrown off by its subtle science fiction elements. If you find yourself questioning its genre, the actual story lies firmly wedged between drama and art. For this reviewer, the sci-fi aspect stands as a metaphor that powers the film’s message.
17 year old Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) has just been accepted into MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Her celebration is short-lived when after a night of partying, crashes her car into a vehicle driven by John Burroughs’ (William Mapother), instantly killing his wife and son. Although Rhoda appears to be intoxicated, her distraction comes from a radio broadcast stating the discovery of a planet that closely resembles Earth. Four years later, Rhoda is released from prison; her spirit broken and dreams shattered, she takes up a janitor’s position at a local school. At this point, there are various theories about the other planet. When contact is made, it is established that the other planet is in fact a mirror Earth having entered our solar system from a parallel dimension. Preparations are made to travel to the other Earth and Rhoda participates in a competition to become one of the first civilians to accompany astronauts to the approaching mirror Earth. After cleaning the school for some time, Rhoda approaches John with the intention of apologizing for her carelessness, but loses her nerve and poses as a maid-to-order cleaner. A music professor at Yale, John has become an alcoholic with disregard for his profession ever since the accident. He buys into Rhoda’s pretence and has her clean his house once a week. In time, she helps him overcome his grief but never discloses who she really is. Just when they seem to be drawn to each other, Rhoda wins the competition to travel to the other Earth. She must now decide between confronting her demons and telling John the truth or escape her past and start a new life on the other Earth.
Until this point, the story unfolds remarkably in an easy to watch, evenly paced narrative. As a viewer, I was captivated right from the start. Co-written by Marling and director Mike Cahill, the screenplay has impeccable character detail relating to ample areas that allow us to probe within our own faults and limitations. As the lead character, Rhoda Williams is a bright individual with an even brighter future who throws it all away with just one stupid mistake. How many of us can look within ourselves and honestly claim that we have never made a mistake worth regretting? If you can raise a hand to that question then you must be a renowned hero, or one very self-righteous individual. Cahill’s biggest accomplishment is in Rhoda’s character study— An intelligent and ambitious teenager reduced to a confused and troubled adult, but a wiser one having learnt from her mistake. In giving life to this character, Marling is flawless and ironically powerful as a helpless woman fallen from grace. After this movie, I can only expect that we are about to see a lot more of Marling in the years to come. William Mapother as John is almost as inspiring as a man who has lost everything but the heart to recovery. With nothing to lose, it is always easy to give up on life, but Mapother does an exceptional turn around with John and gives closure to his character. Kumar Pallana has very few scenes in this movie but plays a vital role in mentoring Rhoda into redemption. He does this without much dialogue but with uncanny screen charisma.
As a debut directorial, Cahill also gets top credit for the picture post-card cinematography. Beautiful would be an understatement. We have cinematography dependent films with similar themes in GATTACA and SOLARIS, but nothing compares to the way Cahill renders his landscape in this movie. Also noteworthy is the pulsating score, used sparingly but effectively. Additionally, there is a scene on how to make music using a tool that is usually annoying to the ear. Amazing! For a shoe-string budget, this film did not win two awards at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival by pot-luck. That alone should silence haters for questioning the film’s scientific logic or lack of. This is not about conquering another planet (done to death!) or alien invasions. It is about redemption through self-discovery and re-invention of one’s self esteem by learning from the past and learning to let go of the past. It is about looking at a mirror image of one’s self as opposed to assuming everything is perfect. For a drama, this film is as beautiful as it is poetic. Just don’t expect any eye-popping special effects. There are tons of other movies catering to that need.