MOVIE REVIEW: 'Another Earth' delivers a great brain-teaser

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

If he hadn't delivered such huge returns with his two "Batman" flicks (the third is scheduled for a July 2012 release), director Christopher Nolan would never have been able to make "Inception." Expensive, long, convoluted and too smart by half, "Inception" defied all odds by being embraced by most critics and throngs of audiences and to date has made more than $800 million worldwide.

The success of "Inception" not surprisingly prompted Hollywood to try to replicate Nolan's formula, and three of them were released within the same 30-day period this past spring. "The Adjustment Bureau," "Limitless" and "Source Code" were all very good and each aped Nolan's down-the-rabbit-hole style to great effect. All four movies went far in changing many peoples' perception of science fiction, mostly for the better.

With a budget of about $200,000, "Another Earth" is devoid of the type of whiz-bang special effects seen in the above mentioned films and really can't be considered science fiction. It's the debut feature from a director and leading lady who have created one of the most interesting and original movies of the last decade.

Rhoda (Brit Manning) is driving home drunk one night after attending a party celebrating her recent acceptance to MIT. While trying to make out a strange blue dot amidst all the white stars above her, Rhoda plows into another car, killing a child and pregnant woman and putting their father/husband (William Mapother) into a coma.

It is technically possible to reveal more plot details beyond this opening five-minute sequence without ruining the entire movie for any interested viewers, but it's probably better not to take the chance.

Manning and co-writer/director/cinematographer/editor Mike Cahill take only 90 minutes to tell a story more seasoned filmmakers couldn't do half as well with twice as much time.

Rather than spaceships, slimy, hulking aliens, time travel or flaming asteroids, the filmmakers' lone element of sci-fi is brilliantly simple and simply brilliant. As premises go, it's still kind of, well ... not real likely to happen, but it opens up a treasure trove of story possibilities that will appeal greatly to those who generally deplore sci-fi and lean toward the philosophical and metaphysical and subscribe to the power of karma.

That said, it should be made clear that "Another Earth" does not follow the non-linear, navel-gazing, semi-twaddle path of "The Tree of Life" or "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's metaphorical to the nth degree but in a minimalist, bare-bones sort of way. The dialogue and details are sparse, and what you will take away from it will be solely dependent on your own sense of morality and ethics, yet is never remotely judgmental. It will make you think hard but won't give you a headache in the process. It also has one of the most surprising last scenes in movie history.

If you like to have your brain teased and prefer not to have stories spoon fed to you, you should put "Another Earth" at the top of your must-see list. (Fox Searchlight)