WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: Left to look after a mining facility on the dark side of the moon with only a friendly robot for company, Sam Bell looks forward to the end of his three-year contract and reuniting with his family. However, Sam starts to feel unwell and, after an accident, develops the feeling that he’s not alone. Is it paranoia? And if not, what – or who – is with him?
First of all, a warning: if you’ve not seen Moon and think you might want to, please (in the nicest possible way) go away and come back later. I can’t even allude to the films that it bears comparison to without giving away crucial elements of the plot, and I’d hate to spoil it for you in any way. Okay?
Good. So, this is Moon: in the near-ish future, Lunar Industries have solved the Earth’s energy crisis by collecting helium-3 on the moon and sending it back in regular launches from the Sarang mining base. The only human not to benefit directly is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), the base’s sole employee, just a few weeks away from returning to his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and their young daughter Eve.
A satellite* failure prevents any direct communication with Earth, so – apart from talking to himself and some plants – his only conversation is with sympathetic automaton GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Sam begins to hallucinate, causing him to suffer a terrible accident while he’s out recovering helium-3 from the giant harvesters that roam the moon’s surface; the next thing Sam knows, he’s being looked after by GERTY at the base’s infirmary, though for some reason his robotic assistant doesn’t want him to go outside.
He manufactures a reason to go anyway and discovers a crashed vehicle with what appears to be himself inside. Suddenly, Sarang has two unhappy Sams at each other’s throats and GERTY has a lot of explaining to do. The pair learn to rub along together and delve for answers at the base, facing a race against time to take action before the company’s ‘rescue’ team arrive.
The temptation to fill this review with naff David Bowie puns is almost irresistible, but I’ll try not to, for the one-time Mr Zowie Bowie’s debut feature film owes nothing to his father’s work (though planet Earth is blue, and there’s not much Sam can do). Instead, I’ll start by saying that Moon is a fabulous-looking film. The exterior shots on the moon’s surface, often looking back towards Earth, are convincing and add to an atmosphere of remoteness and melancholy which is enhanced by Clint Mansell’s score
Indoors, there’s a lovely lived-in feeling to the sets: while largely clean, white and featuring the usual futuristic lettering, there’s also clutter: photos, pen markings, post-its and the like. The design is uniformly believable and striking, especially GERTY’s emoticon-like facial expressions which are both charming and emotionally affecting. Also, Sam Rockwell does a superb job of acting on his own (as it were), bringing out all the frustration and alienation of the Sams’ predicament and what turns out to be a tricky domestic situation, as well as physically representing someone who is deeply unwell.
For a while, it looks as though Moon is going to fully exploit the ambiguity of Sam’s situation, the question of how much we can take on trust and how much Sam is creating in his head due to mental illness; however, the film plays out in a decidedly unambiguous fashion, meaning it loses in Fight Club-style intrigue what it gains in its choice of dramatic climax, which isn’t necessarily the greatest trade-off.
The climax of the movie is a slight disappointment and asks more questions about the plot than it answers: if people can go back and forth so easily, surely Lunar Industries would send a team to the moon, to cover illness and prevent exactly the sort of loneliness Sam experiences? Alternatively, couldn’t a company with the technology to make GERTY and the harvesters run the base without any human intervention? Still, you can destroy the magic of many a film by poking at it too much, and in general Moon carries the viewer along on the strength of its atmosphere and strong central performance.
On the other hand, the viewer who watches a lot of space-themed movies might see many things they’ve seen before. In particular, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey hangs over the entire film. Jones’ movie apes the look and feel of the central section of 2001, the chief difference being the generally benign presence of GERTY rather than HAL’s cold indifference. Even the scenes where Sam speaks to his daughter appear to be inspired by 2001, and one of the final images echoes Dave Bowman’s journey through the stargate.
Moon’s themes differ from 2001 but are reminiscent of other films such as The Island (which in itself was hardly an original idea) – though the vision of cloning used here reminded me more specifically of The Prestige. I read that Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running was also a big influence, but I will need to see that film (and the original Solaris) to form my own opinion.
While I may be being excessively hard on films that lean on others for visual or thematic inspiration – since that accounts for 99.9 percent of all films made – I should stress that Moon is competently made and very nicely played, Sam Rockwell wringing every nuance out of his character’s complicated personality and the script making him play against himself with humour and style. It’s just that instead of watching Moon again, I’d rather watch everything that influenced it – which either means it does its job brilliantly, or that the movie’s not as memorable in its own right as it might wish.
NOTES: Which is how it’s spelt. Not to come over all schoolma’amish or anything, but I hope someone in the production was severely ticked off for misspelling the word on one of the computer screens.