Moon, the debut film by Duncan Jones, starring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell and Kevin Spacey as Gerty, is a masterpiece of science fiction, one that is likely to achieve cult status very quickly amongst the fans of the genre. While it’s only on limited release, Moon is a movie that is well worth making the time to go watch it.
Set at some point in the near future, humanity has returned to the Moon, for the plausible explanation that extensive mining operations will spell the end of most of Earth’s energy problems in the form of Helium 3. Sam Bell is the sole miner on one of Lunar Industries outposts on the far side of the moon. Because of a communications error, Sam has been isolated for his entire time on the station. At the opening of the film, he is two weeks away from his return to earth, when an accident leaves him injured, when another Sam Bell appears. With this turn of events, the pair realize just what their lives are, and mean in the greater scheme of things.
The trailer, unfortunately, gives away much of what this film is, and from early reports about the plot and visuals, I was able to guess pretty much the major plot points and reveal – Sam Bell is in fact a clone, and the memories of his life back on earth are all nothing but fabrications, or copies of the original Sam Bell. While the story doesn’t come off as a wholly original one, the execution alone is what turns this story into something far more interesting.
What I found the most interesting is the calm indifference to the news of their origins that both Sams (let’s call the first one Alpha and the second one Bravo) feel when they come to the realization that neither is a figment of the other’s imagination – there’s a far more level of realism there, for people coming from a futuristic world where elements such as cloning aren’t out of the realm of possibilities.
Furthermore, while the film harkens back to other films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, the plot doesn’t focus so much on the greater moralistic issues around the story, such as cloning, artificial intelligence, or some of the other, lofty grand ideas that other classics might have looked to, but it takes these elements in stride, looking more towards the ethics of a major corporation, in this case, Lunar Industries, and the human side to the story. Rockwell plays a fantastic set of characters in the two Sam Bells – Alpha is lonely, tired, dying and crazy, while Bravo is young, vital and temperamental. Easily the best scenes are when the two interact, the same person, but two different people. Their reactions upon realizing just who they are absolutely brilliant, with an entire range of emotions, from anguish to anger, and this is where the film excels the most.
There is a subtle element to the storyline about Lunar Industries and their moral stance towards their workers that largely takes a back seat to the primary storyline of Sam Alpha and Bravo. Towards the end of the film, Gerty says that the two of them (himself and a third, recently revived clone, Charlie) will be back to their regular programming, where Bravo same counters: “We’re not programs, Gerty, we’re people.” This is a profound and defining moment for this storyline, and it’s something that really resounds with me when it comes to themes within science fiction. In the past couple of years, the broad themes of science fiction have shifted. During the Golden Era of SF, the 60s and 70s, there was a predominant trend (from my observations) of stories that involved an individual against a government, which tended to be the faceless antagonist. In more recent years, there seems to be far less vilification of a government, with more towards larger corporations being more of a target. Entities such as this seem to control people, viewing them far more as parts of a machine or system than as the individual people that they are. In this case, this element is brought to the extreme, where people are packaged up and replaced as needed on these mining stations.
Visually, the film is stunning, looking back to films such as 2001 for a quiet, calm, minimalist look at the future. There is a very retro, but realistic and practical feel to all of the sets, from the rovers to the mining base, which is something that I’ve longed to see in science fiction films of late. But while these elements are absolutely fantastic, they help to drive home a vital point when it comes to science fiction – the story is the primary element of any such film. Unlike films that are likely to gross millions of dollars, such as Terminator, Star Trek and Transformers this year, Moon is soft spoken, relying on models and physical sets, which help to supplement the story, rather than drive it. This is a lesson that far too few directors and studios are taking to heart nowadays, it would seem, relying far more on the glamour and excitement than on the story, and it shows. Moon is a film that is going to be remembered for years to come, because of its timeless feel and nature brought on by the story, rather than something else that is going to simply be known for its box office totals.
The last element that makes this movie really click is Clint Mansell’s fantastic soundtrack. With films such as Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain under his belt for notable genre scores, Moon‘s soundtrack is a little overwhelming at times, but wonderful all the same, with a simply stunning opening track that is followed by several others that absolutely nail the feel of the film, and stands alone in its own right.
In short, Moon is a film that is Science Fiction at its best, and shows that this is the sort of movie that we need to see in the genre far more than we do. It is very rare indeed to come across a film in the SF/F genre nowadays that is truly original (homage aside) but that also provides a thoughtful and interesting story. Moon is the sort of film that needs to be made and seen far more often then it is.