Moon (2009)

23Feb10

“I want to go home” – Sam Bell

This is the type of film that trusts its viewer’s intelligence. It unfolds at its own pace, languidly at times, not in any rush for cheap surprises, trusting that we can pay attention longer than 30 seconds. In other words, its old school film making using an original, thought provoking story brilliantly executed in the sci fi genre. This is not the masterwork of a veteran filmmaker, but the directorial debut from Duncan Jones, who happens to be David Bowie’s son.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is employed by Lunar Industries, not too far into the future. They dig out helium-3 from the moon’s surface, converting it into clean energy for those back on Earth. Sam is alone on his contract, serving his 3 years in isolation. The only other presence is his helpful, robotic assistant  GERTY (voice played by Kevin Spacey), eerily bringing back memories of HAL 9000.

Sam has two weeks left in his contract, eager to get back home to be with his wife and young daughter. He’s kept in touch with her through taped video messages because the communication feed is damaged. His meetings with Lunar Industries are also taped, adding further to his isolation.

Sam has a hallucination, seeing a young girl seated in his chair. Shaking it off, he heads out for a routine check on the large harvesting machines, extracting the helium-3, and again sees the girl outside his window. Distracted, he crashes his rover into a harvesting machine and blacks out.

When he wakes, GERTY is tending to him, explaining he had an accident. During his recovery, Sam overhears a live conversation between GERTY and Lunar executives, explaining that a rescue squad is being dispatched and that Sam isn’t allowed to leave the base. Suspicious, he wants to start working again but GERTY insists he gets more rest. Sam tricks him and heads out to his crash site. He finds the rover lodged into the lunar surface and opens the hatch. Inside, he finds an unconscious body and taking a closer look, sees it’s himself. Stunned, he hurriedly takes him back and leaves him in the infirmary, demanding GERTY explain to him why there’s two Sam’s. GERTY sidesteps the question, giving a vague explanation. The brilliant turn of events at this point only multiplies, supported with sound reasoning.

The story’s gripping narrative, co written by Jones, is tied to Sam Rockwell’s groundbreaking performance. He plays different versions of “Sam Bell” at different stages of their life, convincingly taking turns at being smug, desperate, crazy and brilliant. He’s up to the challenge of being in almost every frame. His most prominent role prior to this was 2002’s “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” since appearing in supporting roles in major films, but perhaps this will give him a bigger stage.

Clint Mansell‘s (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) soundtrack is sparse, creepy, mostly driven by piano and electronic beats which then opens into a soaring theme, perfect for the unforgettable conclusion. It’ll stay with you long after the film is over, hypnotic. GERTY also deserves mention. Kevin Spacey’s soothing voice breathes life into Sam’s robotic assistant, visual expressions given with a cartoon smiley face, almost in mockery of Bell’s situation.

There are many layers to this film, worth repeated viewings. It touches on isolation, corporate greed, scientific progress and how much we value our own uniqueness. Besides the taped video messages, we only see one character throughout the film, a testament to Jones trusting his material and Sam Rockwell, the confidence apparent within the story. Duncan Jones delivers a powerful work, a memorable debut from a promising new director.

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