Moon (2009) Review

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap]t’s not every day that a science fiction film puts the science on the backburner and focuses on the human element instead. Moon does just that – almost out of necessity – and to great effect. The result is a film that will reach out to every viewer and touch the common ties that bind humanity: our demand for the truth and our insatiable need to be unique.

In the not so distant future, Helium-3 is the new source of Green energy and is abundant on the moon. Harvesting He-3 is mostly automated; however, some human decisions have to be made, so the moon station is staffed by a single caretaker who lives onsite for three years. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone Helium-3 miner. He is almost completely isolated from humanity. Due to technical problems, communication with his family or the corporate office is reduced to the equivalent of electronic snail mail. Sam isn’t completely devoid of companionship. He’s accompanied by the station’s artificial intelligence “Gerty” realized as a boxy robot attached to a ceiling rail. Gerty speaks with Kevin Spacey’s voice in a mostly even tone that’s condescendingly soothing. When Moon begins, Sam only has a few more weeks before his three-year tour is over and he can return home. Unfortunately, he indulges his imagination too far, turning them into full-blown hallucinations. After a serious accident, Sam wakes to find a slightly younger version of himself walking around the moon station. From there, existential questions abound and it’s up to the Sams to answer them while each facing the dread of discovering that he could be nothing more than a copy of the other Sam.

Moon’s story is deep, rather than broad, so filmgoers who appreciate character-driven plots will enjoy the development here. Writer Nathan Parker takes his time in revealing the story without coming off contrived. The idea of being confronted with your doppelganger and not knowing who’s the copy of whom is also a relatively fresh concept, especially the way it’s handled in the film. Moon also deals with isolation and being forced to accept oneself. Here this theme is taken to the nth degree, with the Sams bickering and squabbling until they can learn to cooperate and appreciate each other’s personalities.  The driving force in Moon is the mystery of how the Sams came to be, of course, and the journey is thoroughly compelling to watch, which is in large part thanks to the wonderful acting.

Sam Rockwell turns in a beautiful, highly nuanced performance that showcases his creative and technical acting range. Despite being played by the same actor and being the same character, the two Sams really give the impression of being two different people. Rockwell does an excellent job of keeping the characters distinct without letting the acting get away from him and turning the Sams into caricatures. It’s been said that an actor’s dream role is to act by himself. Here Rockwell gets to act with himself and he takes the opportunity and runs with it.

The direction in Moon is also superb. The set will remind of other excellent space sci-fi and is adequately futuristic without being too many generations into the future. The sterility of the environment is a nice contrast to Sam’s human variable as he draws happy and sad faces on the walls or renames labels with his personal touch. Gerty is also very well designed with its single mode of expression being modern day “chat smileys” which speaks volumes to how much value humans will read into a symbol. There’s also the matter of having two Sam Rockwells onscreen at the same time. Director Duncan Jones and his team have done a marvelous job of masking the movie magic. So when the Sams play ping pong or fight each other the visual fidelity only betrays the illusion under the most intense scrutiny.

Overall, this is not just a science fiction film. Moon captures everything that’s good about storytelling. It has a compelling plot, multi-faceted characters and an eerie mystery that everyone will want to follow to its conclusion. Moon is a deeply moving story that will leave audiences with a better understanding of people – and of themselves.