MoonDirected by Duncan JonesStarring Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey and Dominique McElligottRated R*8.5*Goes well with: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Blade Runner
Usually, “science fiction” in movies is code for stupid special-effects blockbuster. It's generally not about science or fiction, just one more reason for giant robots to blow shit up. But, once in a while, a film comes along—like, say, Duncan Jones' feature debut, Moon—that uses sci-fi to truly probe the human condition. This is the sort of movie that's tough to write about, because you don't want to give away its most salient points. But there's no twist at the end of Moon to be given away. Instead, it's a story whose strengths lie in not letting the audience get ahead of the story as it unearths itself. This way, the characters and the audience are working it out together. It makes for well-made fiction—fiction based in science, of course.
The movie is set in the not-so-distant future. Earth's energy woes have been sorted out, thanks to the discovery of Helium 3 on the far side of the moon. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a miner at the tail-end of a three-year solo stint on a decrepit base—literally, he's the man on the moon. Sam's seriously lonely. His only companion is the robot, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who's also his caretaker. The base is run-down and dirty, and Sam's problems are compounded by the fact that real-time communications with Earth have been down for months—he's only able to communicate with his wife (Dominique McElligott) and his bosses via recorded video messages.
So, even though he's a short-timer, you might say Sam's at the end of his rope. And you'd be right. He's not feeling so hot, and he's starting to see things. After he suffers an accident while examining one of the massive Helium 3 harvesters, he wakes up in the sick bay, and, later, he goes back to sort out what happened. And that's when he finds a body out there—and everything changes for him.
There are so many things that come together so well here. Jones—whose dad is David Bowie, a fact mentioned nowhere in the production notes (insert your own “Ground control to Major Tom” joke here)—has crafted an assured film that looks terrific, like high-tech that's becoming antiquated and run-down, like the latest edition of Battlestar Galactica crossed with Space 1999. He's clearly a fan of classic sci-fi; the nods to 2001 and other films are obvious. But they're merely nods—Moon stands on its own as an original work.
Rockwell's work here is terribly impressive. Generally considered a top-shelf character actor, he uses those traits and skills to craft a seriously multifaceted lead role, a man who's lonely, scared and confused, not just about what is happening to him, but also what the ramifications of these events mean for who he is and his prospects for returning home. Rockwell always delivers the goods, but in Moon he has a brilliantly written role, brash and angry, self-pitying and tragic and sharply humorous, all as he adjusts and awakens to some harsh truths that he'd really rather not face. It's no understatement to say that his work in Moon is stellar, probably the best thing he's ever done.
Now, cool plot aside, Moon also works on multiple levels. Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker pose hefty, metaphysical questions without literally asking them. Is the movie addressing the nature of humanity, or is it asking about the concepts of self-awareness and consciousness, in the same vein as 2001 or another sci-fi classic, Blade Runner? Sure—it's all in there, but only if you want to point the rover in that direction.
You don't have to be a deep thinker to walk out of Moon feeling like you've seen an awesome little sci-fi movie. But in yet another summer that's full of mindless fare, it's nice to find a little movie that's well-made and well-acted and keeps the gray matter churning.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.