Saturday, June 14, 2014

Moon (2009)

Director: Duncan Jones                                  Writers: Nathan Parker & Duncan Jones
Film Score: Clint Mansell                               Cinematography: Gary Shaw
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott and Benedict Wong

As much as I dislike Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, there can be no doubt of its sweeping influence on space films, particularly those in which a central computer controls either a ship or a space station. With the apparent willingness of the HAL 9000 to sacrifice the men aboard the ship for the good of the mission, every computer from Mother in Alien to GERTY in Moon is guilty until proven innocent. I would argue that without seeing 2001, this film is not nearly as suspenseful. And it is suspenseful. This was Duncan Jones’ first feature length film and he does a good job in a familiar genre. He was also helped by the considerable skills of Sam Rockwell, especially considering he was really the only actor he had to direct which no doubt made his job a little easier. And while it’s a very intimate film, in the same way as the Kubrick’s was, it remains firmly rooted in science and the controversies that new discoveries create. What makes the film so impressive is that it’s able to take that debate out of the realm of the hypothetical and engage the viewer with emotions to go along with their intellectual arguments.

The story begins with Rockwell as a lone astronaut working on a mining operation on the moon. He runs four automated drilling machines out of a central hub where his only company is a mobile computer named GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey. Rockwell is at the end of a three-year stretch and looking to go home in a couple of weeks. The communication system is broken and while he can’t get instant contact with earth he does get regular messages that are recorded and sent in a cache. One day he notices something wrong with the message from his wife, but before he can process what it is one of the drilling machines breaks down. Rockwell goes outside to investigate and in the process he crashes his lunar rover and lapses into unconsciousness. Later, when he wakes up back in the space station he doesn’t seem to question how he got there. GERTY is suspiciously evasive on the matter and tries to get Rockwell back into a routine but when he sees the drilling machine is still out of order, he decides to investigate, again to the disapproval of GERTY. When he gets there he sees someone injured, brings him back to the station, and makes the startling discover that the person he rescued is himself.

The rest of the film is actually a fascinating morality play. Who is the real Rockwell? They look identical except that the old Rockwell is sick and never really recovers from his injuries. They seem to know the same things, but have slightly different memories about their wife and their time on Earth. Much of the tension is resolved when GERTY, instead of keeping the secret of which Rockwell is the clone and which is real, tells the truth. Though Sam Rockwell doesn’t seem like the best choice for the role, writer-director Duncan Jones and screenwriting partner Nathan Parker wrote the film specifically for the actor. The story is something of a throwback, to clone films like Blade Runner, or science-fiction films that emphasizes isolation like Alien. The special effects that allow Rockwell to act with himself a particularly good which makes sense considering the film is essentially shot in a studio with minimal exteriors. On the surface, Moon seems like just another sci-fi film, but just under the surface is a thought-provoking story of ideas and scientific controversy. It’s well directed, well acted, and definitely worth seeking out.

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