Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kevin Spacey (voice), Kaya Scodelario
Duncan Jones (who was christened Zowie Bowie at birth by his father, David) makes his theatrical feature debut as director—and story writer—of Moon. This film is one of those rare animals: the intelligent science-fiction film. (It’s startling to realize that Moon and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen both loosely fall into the same genre.) Oh, such movies aren’t nonexistent. Danny Boyle made one called Sunshine back in 2007, and that year also gave us Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. They are, nonetheless, not common—and for every Sunshine that comes along, there’s usually something like Steven Soderbergh’s remake of Solaris (2002) to balance the equation and make you realize that there are good reasons why such films are uncommon. And, frankly, from what I knew of the plot of Moon, I was afraid we had another Solaris on our hands. Blessedly, that’s not the case.
Jones has made a thoughtful and very human sci-fi film that manages to eschew the mania for conspicuous consumption, massive explosions and endless property damage—and it does so without succumbing to the kind of boredom that often marks the low-budget, seriously intended science-fiction movie. I’m not saying that Moon is action-packed, and if you go to it expecting anything like Transformers, you’re not going to be in the least happy. If that’s what you’re after, hold out for Roland Emmerich’s 2012 this fall.
Moon—set in some unspecific time in the future—is about Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a man living on the far side of the moon. Sam is coming to the end of a three-year contract as supervisor of a largely automated mining operation for Helium-3, which has become Earth’s primary energy source. His only companion is a computer called Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey). His only diversion, apart from working on a model village, are bewhiskered sitcoms like Bewitched and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. The link allowing direct communication with Earth is down (a seemingly perpetual situation), leaving Sam with no other option than to communicate with his family via recorded messages. Sam, in fact, is rapidly disintegrating, and is only kept going by the knowledge that he’ll soon be heading home.
In the final days of that wait, however, he has an accident, and awakes to find himself in the moon-station infirmary, unable to remember exactly what happened—something Gerty fills in the blanks on. While waiting and recuperating, Sam finds indications that there’s someone out on the perimeter of the station—someone alive. Though ordered to keep him inside, Gerty is bamboozled into letting Sam go out. While outside, Sam finds an injured man in a wrecked lunar conveyance. Bringing the man back to the station, Sam is surprised to find that the fellow appears to be himself. Certainly he looks just like him, but is he real or merely an hallucination? That sets up the central drama of the film—and it’s a drama about which Jones’ film makes it impossible to say any more without saying too much.
What can be said, however, is that Moon raises all the right and most interesting questions about what it means to be human in the manner of some of the best science fiction, and it does so with no little subtlety and thoughtfulness, in a manner that recalls sci-fi films of an earlier era. There’s something of a more human 2001 (1968) here and a bit of Silent Running (1972), but comparisons don’t quite do Moon justice, because it’s its own film—and in no small part due to the amazingly nuanced performance of Sam Rockwell. Always an interesting actor, Rockwell’s presence has enlivened many an indie. But here Rockwell comes into his own with a portrayal whose greatness doesn’t become fully apparent until the film is over. And to understand that, you’ll have to see Moon, which you should anyway. Rated R for language.