Her life was full of promise. When we first meet Rhoda, she’s just graduated from high school and is on her way to MIT to study astrophysics. She is brilliant, she is beautiful, and she is partying. She gets into a car, high on life and presumably other things, and soon becomes distracted by some big news blaring from the radio: Scientists have discovered another planet, a blue dot next to the moon that they’re calling Earth 2. Rhoda sticks her head out the driver’s side window. You know this won’t end well.
Still, the inevitable accident is a shock, horrifying and gut-wrenching in its fierceness and its aftermath. Four years later, we see Rhoda (newcomer Brit Marling) finishing not college but a prison sentence. She moves into her old room at her parents’ house but—being decorated with planets and photos of the solar system, reminders of the hotshot she once was—it’s too much for her. So Rhoda moves into the attic, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. She seeks out a job in which she must use her hands instead of her brain, self-flagellatingly working as a high-school janitor while at night Googling the man whose life she ruined in that car crash. But there’s also something a bit more enticing online, in the form of an essay contest for a seat to travel to Earth 2, which may be more than just another planet—it’s looking like a parallel universe. Rocketing up there seems like Rhoda’s only possible escape.
Co-written by Marling and director Mike Cahill, both Georgetown University grads, Another Earth is quiet, meditative, and a little creepy. It’s more drama than sci-fi, but there’s just enough Twilight Zone to keep the bathos palatable. It sounds like something dreamed up in a dorm room—Dude, what if there were another world that was, like, just like ours?—but the execution is remarkably assured for a couple of newbies. Like Rhoda’s life, the film has little decoration. Music is used sparingly while Rhoda dourly goes about her day-to-day, frequently staring up into the sky. It’d all be be quite dull if it weren’t for Marling, who’s got a veteran’s presence and beauty, and makes you desperate to know what Rhoda will do next.
Some of the things she does, however, will leave you wishing you could slash the script with a bold red marker. Rhoda insinuates herself into the life of the man whose car she wrecked (William Mapother), posing as a cleaning lady when she visits him to confess but quickly losing her nerve. And the trajectory of their initially brusque relationship is the most egregious of clichés, culminating in a supremely uncomfortable moment in which you silently beg Rhoda, don’t. Don’t. Don’t. It’d all be too unforgivably amateurish if the story didn’t then go Serling once again, refocusing on the mission to Earth 2. Cahill and Marling close Another Earth on just the right, abrupt note, interrupting your nausea with a little chill.
How to Live Forever Directed by Mark Wexler
Stay active and eat right. Or smoke cigs and drink beer. Or take hormones. Or sit in your wheelchair and say “Huh?” when irritatingly cheery people ask for your secret to longevity. These are all real-world tactics to extending one’s life in the documentary How to Live Forever, which director Mark Wexler was moved to make at age 50 following his mother’s death. Too bad Wexler’s too much of a goofball—and a disorganized one at that—to keep his inherently interesting subject interesting.
Wexler, with two earlier docs under his belt, approaches his subject like a child distracted by shiny things. Here’s one of the oldest people alive! Here’s a Las Vegas funeral convention! Here’s Jack LaLanne and Suzanne Somers! Here’s another really old person! Even when he seems to settle in on a subject—say, Okinawa, which boasts the world’s oldest population—Wexler moves on before the segment’s ready to. In this particular case, a commentator (there are lots of fleeting ones) says there are four aspects of the Okinawan lifestyle that help foster old age: One is a low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet. Two is lots of activity, even for people in their 90s. Three and four? Who the fuck knows—it’s time to talk to the 101-year-old Brit who smokes and drinks and runs marathons.
There are a few unique approaches here that add some oomph to the litany of exercise-and-vitamins lectures. “Elder porn,” for instance—an activity that keeps a 70-something Asian man youthful. Or “laughter yoga,” in which the instructor advises people to laugh at nothing in particular for at least 10 minutes a day. (The practice involves breathing exercises that seem to actually result in cracking up.) Wexler also visits a cryonics facility, though the most compelling information he gathers there is the cost of freezing oneself. ($150,000 for your whole body, $80,000 for just your brain.) But overall, the advice on offer is a jumble that even the director admits gets boring.
Throughout the film, Wexler has two gimmicks, one of which is irritating and another that is genuinely thought-provoking. The first involves flipping numbers next to each talking head until it lands on the person’s age. It’s occasionally astounding (a well-dressed, well-spoken woman who looks about 75 turns out to be a 100-year-old author). But what’s the point of announcing that some schlub is 36? The second gimmick sees Wexler asking subjects if they’d take a pill that would allow them to live 500 years. Many say sure; a seemingly equal number says no. What would you do? You just might follow the guidance of LaLanne, who of course advises you to take care of your body with the thought that you have only one life to live. “The good ol’ days are this second!” he says. Well, maybe the second after you walk out of the theater.