DIRECTED BY: Duncan Jones
WRITTEN BY: Nathan Parker (screenplay); Duncan Jones (story)
PEW PEW: The film is slow-going and there is no action to break up the unfolding drama.
CAT FOOD: Moon is brimming with existential commentary and emotional human drama. It’s a quiet and oddly serene look at the beauty that can be seen when the floor falls out from under you.
When this film was recommended to me, I was told that it would essentially be Sam Rockwell for an hour and a quarter. I was immediately intrigued: Sam Rockwell would register high on a list of actors I’d say could carry an entire picture by themselves. But to say he’s by himself wouldn’t exactly be true. I really don’t want to spoil the picture for you, so please watch it. I’m giving it a five star rating, but I believe the magic of the film is not expecting what you find when you watch it.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a caretaker in charge of a mining installation on the surface of the Earth’s moon. Under contract to work alone for three years in the otherwise automated facility, Sam is assisted only by computerised aide GERTY, who resembles a combination of Auto from WALL-E and HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey — but is entirely benevolent. Sam’s only contact from the outside world comes in prerecorded video messages from his wife and child. There is no live communication.
As the end of his contract nears, Sam meets with a terrible accident which leads to some disheartening and existentially profound discoveries.
There are spoilers ahead from this point on.
Subtlety is the champion of this picture: four very subtle things unite magnificently to make Moon an instant classic comparable to the most brilliant pictures in the genre’s magnificent history. Sam Rockwell being our protagonist, the film’s musical score, the very modest budget, and the overall design.
After his horrendous accident (a vehicular one that happens outside the compound), Sam wakes up in the infirmary and GERTY tells him he’s had said accident. Forbidden to leave the compound, Sam manages to convince his computerised assistant to let him outside. Once there, he discovers his own body still inside the crashed rover. When the original Sam is nursed back to health, albeit in deteriorating condition, we suddenly have two of the same person occupying the same compound. The two Sams soon realise that they’re both clones with the same implanted memories.
So here’s the great thing: most of Sam Rockwell’s interactions are with different versions of himself. It’s one serious WTF moment that grows into something utterly magnificent as the pair’s relationship develops from a rivalry to a dysfunctional friendship. Rockwell is absolutely the best choice for this role, and here’s why: Love it or hate it, the dude has this quirky seriousness to him that simultaneously undermines both the serious and the comedic sides of himself. You absolutely never know where the fuck this dude is coming from and it’s wonderful.
With Rockwell in place, Moon presents us with a flaky, realistic protagonist that we can identify with. He has relationship problems, he doesn’t come across as the brightest bulb (which allows us to believe that any one of us could be up there working his job — something few sci-fi films gift to us), and, when there are two of him, he is able to convincingly play two characters who are the same but quite different. You can seriously pick a favourite one, which is incredible considering one friggin guy plays both! You mourn when one hurts another and cheer when one understands the other. I’ve never seen anything like this and it made me re-evaluate every single Rockwell performance I’ve ever seen.
Note: Rockwell also gave a memorable dual performance in Hitchhiker’s Guide, but it was far from the depth portrayed here.
I believe even most veteren actors couldn’t portray the multi-faceted realism that Rockwell exudes. He’s an every-man, and not just in that he’s every man in the film — Sam is not your typical chiselled hunk or smooth-edged eye-candy.
The film’s haunting minimalist score, composed expertly by Clint Mansell, is absolutely stunning and perfect for the picture. A fan of minimalist music, I must say that Moon’s score ranks as one of my favourites of all time. This, paired with a minimal budget, presents an incredibly isolated and utilitarian design that would seem either less or too homey with more money thrown at it. It’s comfortable in an uncomfortable kind of way. Like, “Here’s the hole I’m living in… I’m making the best of it.”
Of the highest note is what the film has to say about humanity and existence. There is plenty of cat food in this one, dearest readers. There are three gut-wrenching scenes that stand out for me. When Sam manages to undermine the live communication ban on the moon, he contacts his daughter, who is now a teenager, and finds out that his beloved wife has been dead for some time. Worse yet is that the ‘real’ version of him is living on Earth with his daughter. The clone Sam realises that, while he still possesses the vivid memories of an intense love for his wife and daughter, he can never ever see them and he was never ever meant to. Essentially, he can never really be himself. Rockwell makes his character utterly crumble and it’s powerful shit, my friends.
Secondly, the scene where the dying first clone Sam and the healthy second clone Sam, in their last moments together, bond with one another over their shared memories of their wife. There is a collective mourning over the death of a wife they’ve never really met and a joint desire to meet their daughter, who they are extremely proud of. While their existence together is initially invasive and detrimental to each others’ psyches, in time one legitimately wants the best for the other and it’s extremely touching.
Of final note is the interaction between Sam and GERTY, voice by the intrepid Kevin Spacey. There is little to no emotion in GERTY’s voice, but, through the curiously effective use of emoticons, the machine has a personality that you warm up to. There is a real bond between Sam and the machine, almost like one between teasing siblings. The scene where Sam has to reboot GERTY contains a subtle gesture that I found particularly moving. GERTY allows Sam to reset him by turning his back to him and, before leaving the machine forever, Sam removes a KICK ME sign he’d time ago placed on the machine’s back. It’s a very subtle and brilliant way to show Sam’s love and respect for the thing. This is writing at its absolute finest.
Watch Moon. Be utterly confused by Moon. Love Moon.