Sunday, June 14, 2009
Moon - The Movie
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his contract with Lunar. He has been a faithful employee for three long years. His home has been Selene, a moon base where he has spent his days alone, mining Helium-3. The precious gas holds the key to reversing the Earth's energy crisis. Isolated, determined, and steadfast, Sam has followed the rulebook obediently, and his time on the moon has been enlightening, but uneventful. The solitude has given him time to reflect on the mistakes of his past and to work on his raging temper. He does his job mechanically and spends most of his available time dreaming of his imminent return to Earth, to his wife, young daughter and an early retirement.
But two weeks shy of his departure from Selene, Sam starts seeing things, hearing things, and feeling strange. And, when a routine extraction goes horribly wrong, he discovers that Lunar have their own plans for replacing him and that the new recruit is eerily familiar. Before he can return to Earth, Sam has to confront himself and the discovery that the life he has created may not be his own. It's more than his contract that is set to expire.
"Moon" is an auspicious debut from Duncan Jones (Zowie Bowie), a talented new director who happens to be the son of David Bowie. Sam Rockwell gives a truly remarkable performance as Sam Bell, a lunar miner who is nearing the end of his 3-year contract at a single-man mining outpost. His only companion is the station computer, Gertie, a straight-up HAL homage that tantalizingly suggests how a culture informed by decades of watching 2001 might choose to design a companion robot. To say too much more about the plot would be to spoil its central conceit, and while I'm sure many reviewers will talk openly about it, I want to preserve the surprise if at all possible at least until the film gets its theatrical release this coming June.
Suffice it to say that Jones admirably mixes together stock genre tropes, paying tribute to a number of classic science fiction features while retaining his own idiosyncratically dark vision. Familiar filmic concepts of the "clean future" and the "dirty future" are mixed together to create a unique atmosphere; the milieu is suitably claustrophobic, the cramped quarters of the mining station serving the film's conceptual purposes while masking the shoestring budget. In fact, it may be hard to spare a glance at the meticulously designed sets with your eyes glued to Rockwell for the duration of the picture. His performance is utterly mesmerizing, inhabiting the role so completely that it is impossible to imagine any other actor having the chutzpah to pull it off. Which is not to say that Moon is without its problems; the pacing is hardly consistent and Jones' reliance on Rockwell tends to undersell his direction. Parts of the film veer dangerously close to identical thematic elements in Steven Soderbergh's recent adaptation of Solaris, without being as emotionally potent.
But what it lacks in originality is mostly compensated for by the sheer audacity of its central performance and the careful economy of its direction. Moon may be dressed in familiar clothing, but it is a singular experience, a clever, darkly funny and genuinely moving journey into the nature of individuality. Jones is already at work on a second science fiction feature, and it is welcome indeed to see such a promising new talent continue to develop his voice by working in genre film-making!