Moon (2009) Movie Review
“Moon” explores one of the possible reasons that mankind might colonize the moon in the not-too-distant future. In the film, nuclear fusion has become a reality, providing limitless cheap and clean energy to the entire world. And the most readily available source of Helium-3, the fuel needed for the fusion reaction, is on the surface of the moon.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, “Choke”, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”) is the lonely astronaut assigned to live alone on the moon and oversee the automated mining operation. Sam is nearing the end of a three-year contract, which means that for three years he’s been in total solitude, his only companion an artificially intelligent computer named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who nimbly maneuvers its robot arms around the base, and has a tiny screen where it displays a myriad of emoticons.
Sam’s live satellite feed to Earth hasn’t worked for a while, meaning his only glimpses of his wife and baby back home are through prerecorded messages. Isolation is clearly taking its toll on Sam’s mind. He begins seeing things; He glimpses strange footage of himself on a TV monitor. The messages from his wife seem to contain abrupt edits. And worst of all, he begins seeing a woman who isn’t there.
One day while repairing mining equipment, his hallucinations distract him, leading to a violent accident. He wakes up back in the infirmary, good as new. His bosses confine him to base, but Sam defies orders and heads out to the lunar surface, where he discovers a crashed rover: Inside is one lone occupant, near death, who looks and sounds exactly like him, and also believes himself to be Sam Bell.
To reveal any more would be a major spoiler, but I can assure you this story doesn’t end with “he’s really dead”, “it was all a dream” or “it’s all a hallucination”, thankfully, which is the vibe I was getting from the trailer. The other vibe I was getting was a striking similarity to Steven Soderberg’s Solaris, but “Moon” has a lot more depth and thought, and much better pacing.
The film is directed by Duncan Jones (son of David Jones, who you might know better as David Bowie), who was out to recreate the style and tone of cerebral sci-fi films of the pre-”Star Wars” era, and it shows: A lot of the set elements are hexagonally shaped (what was it with ’70s sci-fi films and hexagons, anyway?); There’s a scene where Sam tends to plants in a greenhouse, which is probably an homage to “Silent Running”; There’s a constant countdown clock ticking down to when Sam faces his doom, an obvious borrow from “Outland”; And then there’s Gerty, the computer that will surely invite a lot of comparisons to HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
HAL was a computer that had to lie and couldn’t deal with it, and so turned homicidal. Gerty, on the other hand, only covers up the truth until Sam asks it a point blank question, at which point Gerty is more than happy to spell everything out. It seems that in the filmmakers’ attempts to differentiate Gerty from HAL, they gave us a computer whose “motives” are jarringly inconsistent.
But the biggest problem of “Moon” is its abrupt shifts in tone. The opening scenes are bleak, desolate, and deeply moving. But when Sam discovers his doppelganger, the movie nearly turns into the rejected sitcom pilot “My Two Sam Rockwells”, with the two Sams having odd couple-type roommate conflicts. I’m sure if any of us discovered another person who looked and talked exactly like us, we’d be plenty disturbed, but the two Sams seem more annoyed than anything.
And then there’s the ending, which is sort of a cheap-shot, jokey ending that betrays the serious themes of the film.
But director Jones has succeeded in creating a thoughtful sci-fi film where “thoughtful” isn’t merely code for “boring”. And for a reported budget of $5 million, he made a movie that looks like it cost a lot more. In particular, the coexistence of two Rockwells involves an intense amount of special effects trickery. There’s even a scene where the two Sams play ping-pong against each other, and you see both of them, and the ball, all in the same wide shot for several minutes. I must admit that after a while, I stopped trying to figure out how they did it and just enjoyed the show.
I wish the film could have maintained its serious tone throughout. I also kind of wish it could have created its own unique set design, instead of slavishly recreating films of the 1970s. But those are minor nitpicks. For fans of the kind of hard sci-fi you rarely see in movies these days, “Moon” is a winner that never gets bogged down by its own self-importance as it explores issues of identity and existence.
Duncan Jones (director) / Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker (screenplay)
CAST: Matt Berry … Overmeyers
Robin Chalk … Sam
Dominique McElligott … Tess Bell
Sam Rockwell … Sam Bell
Kaya Scodelario … Eve Bell
Kevin Spacey … Robot (voice)
Malcolm Stewart … The Technician