By Philip Newton (England)
Moon is one of the most riveting and engaging science fiction films of recent years and is a fascinating debut feature by Duncan Jones, who refreshingly sidesteps mindless CGI mayhem and hollow stories which quite frequently populates contemporary genre pictures. He instead creates a deeply haunting and emotional experience, both visually and by a fantastic lead performance by Sam Rockwell, which helps create a feel and substance very reminiscent of classic Sci-fi pictures like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running. These both serve as homage to those films but also as an original vision in its own right.
Sam Bell (Rockwell) is an astronaut miner working for Lunar, a top flight company seeking to solve humankind’s energy crisis, and Sam has spent three years on a mission extracting precious moon gas which promises to reverse the earth’s energy crisis. His contract is almost up and Sam longs to return to earth to be with his wife and daughter, whose only contact he receives is by videos made by his wife. Sam’s only real form of communication is a computer called Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) whom helps Sam in his day to day work operations. With only two weeks to go Sam begins to have strange hallucinations and eventually leads to a crash he has outside his base on a job, where he loses consciousness.
When he comes round he is back at his base, however becomes suspicious when he overhears Gerty speaking with Lunar not to let Sam outside the base, to which Sam manipulates his way out to investigate. From there he discovers a crashed space rover and an unconscious astronaut, to which Sam discovers bears an uncanny resemblance to himself, this leads to the actual reason for Sam’s mission, with all that he knows that may not be true and just how honest Lunar may have been with him.
Moon as I said previously has a strong connection with 1970’s science fiction pictures and director Duncan Jones clearly wanted to make a film which both reflected the clinical and visual flair of 2001, but also the more humane side reflecting Silent Running dealing with isolation and past memories.
He scores fantastically well on both counts; Jones always keeps the camera slow so we can see the day to day operations of Sam’s life, with lots of wide angle shots showing the base as well as the little duties Sam performs. This was important as it allows us to believe the cold and mechanical life in space. The early scenes are slow moving and not dramatic, I felt that Jones was luring us in as an audience to the isolation that Sam feels and the disconnection from the life he once knew.
The latter part of the film deals more emotionally with the dramatic effect of that isolation as Jones then lets Sam Rockwell takeover to convey the emotional toll that the subsequent revelations have had on his psyche, and strongly deals with the power that personal memories have with us all.
Rockwell is very good in this film as an everyman, someone for whom we can see ourselves in and this was important, I felt that at certain poignant scenes in the film and whichever Sam Bell it was addressing we could understand and relate to his experiences and memories of wanting to return home. Even when the plot fully develops, it could have easily become overly complicated and silly given that the main twist is that of pure fantasy. It instead explores the emotional knock on effect of what is happening and Rockwell is always engaging.
This is even more amazing when large parts of the film involve Rockwell acting with himself as the two Sam Bell’s and manages to make it work as two separate individuals joined together by identical memories and dreams.
Another crucial component comes courtesy of composer Clint Mansell’s haunting and atmospheric score which pulses throughout the film like a well-oiled machine. The music helps take us as an audience on a journey with the atmospheric sounds of early scenes reflecting the isolation and eerie feelings of outer space, connecting with wide open space imagery. The film later uses subtle and moving sounds reflecting the more personal scenes reflected in close up shots.
The final credits theme closes the film with music radiating feelings of hope and positive reinforcement, stating that this is ultimately a film about hope and I finished watching feeling I had been on a journey and that journey turned out okay.