Sci-Fi Flick Raises Haunting Questions
My wife and I slipped off under a waxing harvest moon the other evening to see a little sci-fi art film over in Fayetteville called “Another Earth.”
All I knew about the movie was that it was made on a shoestring by an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, won a major award at Sundance, and came highly recommended by a friend who is up to date on her current releases. Wish I had a dollar for every recommendation like that — cinematic magic that turns out to be Hollywood mush.
But this was startlingly different. She was right. “Another Earth” hooked us from the first frame. We’ve been talking about it ever since. Here’s the simple premise: In a cosmos said to be at least 13,000 million years old, many believe it’s inevitable there’s a duplicate Earth floating somewhere out there. What would happen if another planet suddenly appeared in our skies that turned out to be a mirror of our fragile little planet?
More provocatively, what if there were another you and another me living on this planet? Would you want to meet this person, grab a coffee, get acquainted, maybe review your duplicate lives, swap email addresses and Facebook accounts? Would this “you” perhaps be a better person?
This wasn’t your average blockbuster sci-fi flick by a long shot. There were no exploding buildings or little green men aiming to colonize Earth, no special effects at all, really, save for the constant view of our lonely moon and this alternate Earth floating gorgeously in the sky of almost every frame, day and night, always in the background, stunningly close but just out of reach.
The story is really a much more earthbound one, a deeply moving meditation about our ancient and innately human yearning for redemption in a world where tragedy happens every minute and mistakes seem irreparable.
Powerful Documentary Style
On the eve of going off to study astrophysics at MIT, a brilliant young woman of 17 makes a devastating error that radically alters four lives. While driving home from a celebration with friends, hearing of the new planet’s appearance in the skies, she glances up to see this phenomenon and smashes into a car, killing two of its occupants, a man’s wife and young son.
The man himself winds up in a coma. The girl goes to jail, her splendid in life in ruins. Don’t worry. I’m not giving much away. This all happens in the first 10 minutes.
Four years later, as our world is preparing to send a rocket ship of emissaries to this alternate Earth, this same young woman begins to piece her shattered life together and unexpectedly finds a way to try to make amends to the man whose life she’s destroyed. Among other things, as their unlikely relationship grows, she enters an essay contest to win a trip to this new Earth.
This extraordinary little film is made all the more powerful and intimate by its documentary style of hand-held camera work and quirky scenes that go in and out of focus, providing some of the most beautiful images I’ve seen on film in a very long time — including a divine moment of a man playing the music of the spheres on a carpenter’s saw.
As I watched, all I could think of was the line from Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
As she processes her damaged life on this Earth, fittingly enough, many of the key decisions made by the young heroine of the film take place as she contemplates this new Earth while seated by our old sea.
Can’t Stop Talking
Since then I’ve suggested to two other friends that they see this movie, and both haven’t stopped talking about it — asking the same big question: Would you go?
Sages and scientists have long played with this idea of a parallel universe, the prospect of another “us” out there in a cosmos that’s infinite, possibly divine, and wholly mysterious.
Among other things, Einstein’s theory of relativity advanced the likelihood that time is altered as it passes through space and that both matter and time itself are simply mental constructions and optical illusions. Modern quantum physics has shown that matter is basically light waves and congealed energy shaped by a greater intelligence of some kind — though no one can say exactly what that is.
This world’s diverse spiritual traditions have long understood that the truest heaven lies deep in the uncharted realms of the heart and soul, not in some gated CCNC in the sky where the streets may be paved with gold. Heaven, a wise friend once said to me, simply waits in the silence between our own heartbeats.
My late father-in-law, a brilliant Scotsman who designed the electrical circuitry over the Distant Early Warning System that once-upon-a-time protected North America from the danger of a Soviet sneak attack, once poured me a Christmas Eve scotch and lifted his glass to make an interesting toast.
“Here’s to our beautiful cosmos, Jimmy,” he said. “None of this is real, you know. We’re all just motes traveling in a stream of divine light, a brief thought in the mind of something much larger and more wonderful than we can comprehend. Here’s to the glorious mystery of being human.”
I liked that, actually. And a very merry Christmas to you, too, Sam Bennie.
We clinked glasses and sat talking about who or what God might actually be. Sam was the son of a Paisley deacon who’d rejected the image of an Old Testament deity meting out vengeance on the unfaithful and unworthy, a race struggling with Original Sin, sending the lucky few to “heaven” and casting the rest to “hell.”
As near as I could discern, his was a faith that had been throughly tested by this world and led him to believe that love was, in the end, the greatest power of the universe. Sam was the first to say to me that all humans are cosmic pilgrims, and that every religion has the same principles at its core — namely how to reconnect with a higher and better version of ourselves, something closer to the divine.
But I digress. Back to the big question, fellow Earthlings.
Given the opportunity to venture into the blue unknown, to zoom off to a mirror Earth if it suddenly appeared close enough for you to get there on your current frequent flier points:
(A) Would you really want to go, leaving everything familiar and comforting behind, not knowing if you would ever return?
(B) Would you hope to meet yourself and share thoughts and perhaps gain redeeming insights about how your life has gone up till now?
(C) If there was the possibility that your two lives weren’t perfectly in sync, and thus one might learn something valuable from the other — perhaps even enough to alter the path of your own existence — would you be more eager to go or less inclined to do so? The young woman in the film is asked the same question by the man whose life she destroyed and yearns to restore.
“Please don’t go,” he says. “You don’t know what’s out there.”
“That’s why I would go,” she replies.
As we rode home in the moonlight, stirred by the message of this brave little film, my wife and I held hands and talked about it.
“Oh, I wouldn’t be even slightly interested in rocketing off to another planet,” she said. “I’ve got way too much to do on this earth without having to worry about two of them.”
I knew she would say this. She’s the most down-to-earth soul I’ve ever known. I told her I would probably need a few days to think it over.
In the event you decide to see “Another Earth” — which you’d be crazy not to, if the clashes and debates of this world are making you weary — I won’t spoil the lovely ending, an uplifting conclusion I never saw coming, though my clever earthbound wife did, probably because she’s several Earths ahead of me.
Like most human lives, mine’s had its major ups and downs and even a few things some might call a tragedy. But on the whole, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful family and work I love doing, a life forever challenged by this Earth’s constant struggles and beauty.
For that reason alone, I’d sure hate to go. But I do believe I would, in the end — curious to know what waits in the blue unknown, the glorious mystery of being a human being, the silence that lies between our own heartbeats.
Just this week, astronomers announced they’ve identified at least 50 new planets outside our universe. The cosmos may be bigger — and closer — than we think.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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