A nifty little piece of science fiction, Duncan Jones’ Moon works on the same level as the best of the genre: psychological, rather than effects-laden eye candy. This is a thoughtful, even provocative, virtually one-man chamber drama that just happens to be set on the moon and use futuristic plot devices.
Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, employee of Lunar Industries who single-handedly oversees an automated mining process on the dark side of the moon. It’s a lonely gig, and wouldn’t you know it, the communications satellite has been down for the entirety of his 3-year contract.
His only companion is the base station’s AI Gerty, memorably portrayed as a mobile unit that displays a series of emoticons and voiced by Kevin Spacey as 2001‘s HAL 9000 with a tad more emotion.
Towards the final days of his contract, one of the giant mining machines malfunctions and Sam heads out in a lunar rover to fix it. His rover crashes, and Sam wakes up in the medical bay some time later; Gerty explains that he had an accident, has been unconscious for some time, and has suffered some memory loss. Sam suspects something is amiss. He ignores Gerty’s orders from command and heads out to the site of his accident…
Then Moon takes us in some pretty interesting directions. There’s an initial surprise that sets up a twist that most of us will figure out before Sam does; this shifts focus onto the main character. We seem to know more than he does, and we watch how he slowly uncovers what is going on and how he reacts to it.
Moon boils down to a one-man show, and Rockwell is exceptional here, displaying a vivid range, creating distinct personalities. Jones’ slow, methodical pace works because we’ve invested so much into Rockwell’s character.
The film recalls Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Trumbull’s Silent Running. It’s a refreshing low-budget return to genre basics as opposed to the effects and spectacle that sci-fi has been represented by in recent cinema. It’s a film of ideas, intelligence, logic.
Moon is the debut feature for director Jones, a commercial director who displays an surprising amount of control over his project and has instantly established himself as a director to watch. He’s also the son of glam rocker David Bowie.
You might remember Bowie’s Space Oddity, which featured a character called Major Tom and contained these lyrics:
Here am I sitting in my tin can
far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
and there’s nothing I can do