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Posts Tagged ‘Moon’

Various cinematic shades hang over Duncan Jones’ Moon, almost exclusively of the classic-70s-SF variety – even before the opening credits had finished I was already thinking in terms of Silent Running, Alien, 2001, and so on. This sort of homage goes on all the time, of course, but the question is whether this is just a cheap visual gimmick – an ingratiating wink at the cognoscenti – or born of a deeper affection for and understanding of what these films are actually about.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole inhabitant of an industrial outpost on the dark side of the titular celestial body. Sam’s job is to oversee a number of semi-autonomous robotic mining vehicles which harvest energy-rich helium-3 before it is processed and fired off back to Earth. Almost totally isolated and unable to communicate directly with Earth, his only companion is Gerty, the embodiment of the base AI (voiced, inimitably, by Kevin Spacey). Sam’s been here for three years – a long haul – and he is looking forward to the end of his contract and returning to his wife and child. However, as his time grows short, he becomes aware of strange phenomena – he seems to be having hallucinations, occasionally glimpsing others in the base or seeing recordings of himself he has no recollection of making. Things come to a head when he becomes dangerously distracted while out on the lunar surface and crashes his tractor into one of the helium miners.

Sam recovers consciousness in the base infirmary with no recollection of what happened. But almost at once he becomes suspicious – Gerty seems to be having conversations with Earth behind his back and the base is unaccountably sealed. He manages to make his way outside, but on returning to the crash site he makes a shocking discovery – inside the wrecked tractor is an injured man, and it appears to be him…

The most obvious thing about Moon is the level of technical achievement involved in what is, after all, an extremely low-budget film. This is not remotely apparent on screen: the production is immaculately designed and realised, with the only slightly peculiar element being extensive use of models rather than CGI. Even this feels like a refreshing break from the norm, and if I say parts of the film rather resemble parts of the Gerry Anderson canon, I mean this in a good way.

The centre of the film is the interaction between the two Sam and this is flawlessly executed – there’s even a brief sequence where they play each other at ping-pong during which my jaw literally dropped open. Here the movie transcends the technical limitations of the films it’s inspired by while keeping something of their soul. However, that this element works as well as it does is due just as much to Sam Rockwell’s performance. The two Sams are very different characters and constantly believeable as such – but at the same time, Rockwell never overdoes it and makes them into wholly different people.

Recently I discussed the difficulty of defining the nature of SF, and one of the better suggestions I’ve heard is that it revolves around conceptual breakthrough of some kind – characters slowly coming to a better, truer understanding of the nature of the world and their place in it. This theme is certainly at the heart of Moon and certainly influences the structure of the film – this isn’t an action movie or really an adventure of any kind, but more an examination of character. As such it’s both engaging and rather moving.

If the film has a weakness, it’s that once all the layers of mystification and strangeness have been resolved, the story is rather stuck for things to do in terms of a climax. Lots of things happen, for sure, and the end of the film is satisfying – but it somehow doesn’t have the richness or thoughtfulness of the earlier sections.

Moon, as I believe is quite well-known, eventually led to Duncan Jones being given the director’s chair on Source Code. In retrospect, it’s easy to see what the two films have in common, as they’re both tightly limited in terms of location and are concerned with individuals trapped in a repetitive cycle to the point where they begin to question their own identity. They’re both very good, but for me Moon is easily the superior of the two – not just a homage to a collection of classic movies, but a classic in its own right.

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