The film received generally mixed to positive reviews, and earned two nominations from the Saturn Awards for Brit Marling's performance and for Cahill and Marling's writing.
Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling), a brilliant 17-year-old girl who has spent her young life fascinated by astronomy, is delighted to learn that she has been accepted into MIT. She celebrates, drinking with friends, and in a reckless moment, drives home intoxicated. Listening to a story on the radio about a recently discovered Earth-like planet, she gazes out her car window at the stars and inadvertently hits a stopped car at an intersection, putting John Burroughs (William Mapother) in a coma and killing his pregnant wife and son. Rhoda is a minor, so her identity is not revealed to John. After serving her juvenile prison sentence, and after four years of isolation, Rhoda continues to shield herself from the world outside, becoming a janitor at a local school, wanting to work "physically", almost as a means to struggle past the potential she has squandered with the decision of a single night.
After cleaning her former high school for a while and hearing more news stories about the mirror Earth, Rhoda visits John's house after he has recovered, thinking she will apologize for the harm she did to him. He answers the door and she loses her nerve. Instead, she pretends to be a maid offering a free day of cleaning as a marketing tool for Maid in Haven (a New Haven-based maid service). John, who has dropped out of his Yale music faculty position and is now living in a depressed and dirty stupor, agrees to Rhoda's offer. When she finishes, John, who still does not know she is the person who killed his wife and son, asks her to come back next week. Rhoda tells him someone will come, but it may not be her.
Despite her fear, Rhoda returns to clean and begins to develop a caring relationship with John that eventually becomes more significant and romantic. They like each other and are intelligent and compatible conversationally. Rhoda genuinely wants to be of service to him.
Rhoda enters an essay contest sponsored by a millionaire entrepreneur who is offering a civilian space flight to the mirror Earth. Rhoda's essay is selected, and she is chosen to be one of the first explorers to travel to the other Earth. Rhoda tells John she has won the space flight, but he asks her not to go. He tells her that they might have something together. Faced with this, she finally decides to confront him with the truth and tells him that she was the one who killed his wife and son. He struggles to accept this information and becomes upset. He forcibly removes her from his house.
Rhoda hears a scientist postulating in a telecast that the citizens of the mirror Earth might be identical to those on her Earth in every way until the moment they learned of the others' existence. From that point on, the identical people on the different Earths probably began to deviate in small ways, changing their actions. Hearing this, Rhoda realizes that her identical self on the other Earth may not have caused the accident.
Excited, Rhoda rushes back to John's house, but he is still in shock and will not listen. She breaks into the house, and, unable to talk to John properly, leaves him the ticket to the other Earth, telling him enough information to give him a small hope that his wife and son might be alive on that planet. John accepts the gift and becomes one of the first civilian space travelers to the other Earth.
Four months later, Rhoda looks up at the sky where Earth 2 is now hidden in fog. She approaches her back door and sees her other self from Earth 2 standing in front of her.Brit Marling as Rhoda Williams
William Mapother as John Burroughs
Jordan Baker as Kim Williams
Robin Lord Taylor as Jeff Williams
Flint Beverage as Robert Williams
Kumar Pallana as Purdeep
Diane Ciesla as Dr. Joan Tallis
Rupert Reid as Keith Harding
Richard Berendzen as himself (narrator)
The idea behind Another Earth first developed out of director Mike Cahill and actress Brit Marling speculating as to what it would be like were one to encounter one's own self. In order to explore the possibility on a large scale, they devised the concept of a duplicate Earth. The visual representation of the duplicate planet was deliberately made to evoke the Moon, as Cahill was deeply inspired by the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing. This movie shares some of its plot details with the 1969 British sci-fi movie Doppelganger.
Another Earth was filmed in and around New Haven, Connecticut, Mike Cahill's hometown – with some scenes taking place along the West Haven shoreline and at West Haven High School and Union Station – so that he could avail himself of the services of local friends and family and thus reduce expenses. His childhood home was used as Rhoda's home and his bedroom as Rhoda's room. The scene of the car collision was made possible through the help of a local police officer with whom Cahill was acquainted, who cordoned off part of a highway late one night. The scene in which Rhoda leaves the prison facility was filmed by having Marling walk into an actual prison posing as a yoga instructor and then exiting.
According to Brit Marling, she approached William Mapother for the role of John after "being haunted" by his performance in In the Bedroom (2001). Mapother consented to work on Another Earth for $100 a day. When asked why he agreed to join the cast, considering the "notoriously hit or miss" nature of independent films, Mapother replied that he was drawn by the film's subject and by the names involved in the project. At Mapother's insistence, he and the production team worked extensively on the scenes of John and Rhoda in order to develop John's character in the film.
The film ignores the physical consequences of having a similar-sized planet and moon appear nearby (i.e. effect on tides, gravity and atmosphere) other than depicting night time as brighter due to the reflection of the Sun's light off the other planet. The DVD / Blu-ray deleted scenes feature reveals that the film makers did intend to illustrate some of the consequences by filming a scene in which Rhoda encounters flowers floating in mid-air, but the scene was cut from the final film.
The musical score was composed by Fall on Your Sword, with the exception of the song played in the musical saw scene, composed by Scott Munson and performed by Natalia Paruz. Mike Cahill came upon Paruz, known also as the "Saw Lady", while riding the subway in New York. Mesmerized by her playing, he obtained her contact information and arranged for her to coach William Mapother on how to hold and act as if playing the saw for the scene in the film.
Another Earth had its world premiere at the 27th Sundance Film Festival in January 2011. It was released in dramatic competition. Variety reported: "[It] has been deemed one of the more highly praised pics of the fest as it received a standing ovation after the screening and strong word of mouth from buyers and festgoers." The distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures won distribution rights to the film in a deal worth $1.5 million to $2 million, beating out other distributors including Focus Features and the Weinstein Company.
Fox Searchlight is the distributor of Another Earth in the United States, Canada, and other English-speaking territories. The film had a limited release in the United States and Canada on July 22, 2011, expanding to a wide release in ensuing months.
In its first week in theaters, it grossed $112,266. Eventually, the film grossed $1,776,935 worldwide.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Another Earth a rating of 64% based on reviews from 124 critics.
Film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four. Ebert commented that, "Another Earth is as thought-provoking, in a less profound way, as Tarkovsky's Solaris, another film about a sort of parallel Earth".
Another Earth won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, for "focusing on science or technology as a theme, or depicting a scientist, engineer or mathematician as a major character." It went on to earn the Audience Award in the category of Narrative Feature at the 2011 Maui Film Festival.
Another Earth was named one of the top 10 independent films of the year at the 2011 National Board of Review Awards and was nominated for a Georgia Film Critics Association Award for Best Picture.