Plot: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole human inhabitant of a station on the far side of the moon. His job is to oversee the extraction of helium-3 from the surface for use in the production of environmentally safe power. His only company is an AI called GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Problems with the communication satellite mean that he can’t have live conversations with anyone on Earth, and so has only recorded messages from his wife and little girl for company. He’s nearing the end of his three year contract and the loneliness is clearly getting to him. He’s starting to hallucinate, although he tries to hide this fact from GERTY.
Whilst making an excursion out over the surface of the Moon to a downed harvester, Sam is distracted by a hallucination of a man standing out on the surface in a dust cloud. He crashes the rover, and wakes up in sick bay under GERTY’s careful ministrations, slightly the worse for wear. He has trouble walking, at first, but manages to pull himself along in time to hear the end of what seems to be a live conversation between GERTY and Earth in which they discuss a rescue mission from Earth to the downed harvester. GERTY ushers him back to bed, but as he recuperates, Sam is determined to help with the rescue mission, and frustrated when he finds that GERTY will not allow him to go outside.
Sam fakes a fault in the station and persuades GERTY that he needs to be able to go outside to fix it. Naturally, he takes the opportunity to go investigate the crash site… where he finds a body still lying in the crashed rover. A body that looks just like him. Amazingly, the man is still alive, and Sam takes him back to the station and GERTY’s care. The rest of the film then concerns the question of why there are two Sam Bells, what exactly the company he works for has been doing, and what the two men should do about their situation – a situation that must be resolved before the rescue team arrives and discovers that all is not as it should be.
This is an awesome little British film that I’m simply stunned to discover I didn’t hear about when it was in the cinema. I probably never would have seen it, but for the wonderful Alasdair Stuart, who got me the DVD for Christmas. I’m presuming his thought process went something like this: ‘You like SPACE, you like CLONES, you like ROBOTS, you like KEVIN SPACEY, don’t you? You’ll probably like this‘. And, yes, yes I do.Director Duncan Jones is quoted as saying ‘[W]e wanted to create something which felt comfortable within that canon of those science fiction films from the sort of late seventies to early eighties’, specifically citing Silent Running as one of the classics whose feel he was trying to emulate, and you guys know how I feel about that film. In fact, Moon does precisely the things I was lamenting the absence of (in modern cinema) in that post. I found myself compelled to tweet, whilst watching one of the sequences set out in the lunar landscape: ‘The quality of the Space!Light in this film is stunning’. And oh boy, I can see why. Jones is reported as saying that ‘It’s basically cleaned up photography from the Apollo mission but it is presented beautifully in 70mm prints’. A lot of modern sci-fi just CGIs the space into a kind of polished feel that relates to what we expect, but not to reality. It’s just a more detailed version of what we used to get from Star Trek TNG. I’m sure it takes a lot of skill, but in many ways it has never felt as real and awe-inspiring as those old carefully crafted models set against a dark backdrop, speckled with pinpricks. Something about the quality of the light.
So, cinematically, it’s quietly beautiful, but the plot is doing something a bit different as well. At the start, I was expecting the film to turn into one of those psychological dramas and/or technophobic horrors in which a person either gets space-madness or is made to think that he has by an Evil Robot. It set me up with all the tropes of such hackneyed concepts – the hallucinations, the AI with the soft voice and slightly creepy smiley face monitor – and then it subverted them. Sam isn’t exactly going mad, and he doesn’t spend the whole film ‘alone’ in the stark and depressing way one expects him to at the start. GERTY’s character is beautifully unfolded over the course of the film to be an almost entirely new sort of robot for our screens: not an evil Hal-wannabe, not a camp C3PO, not a cute R2D2 or TWIKI. In the end, I was deeply touched by his role, and he’s definitely entering my line-up of Awesome Robots.
This film is neither precisely heart-warming nor starkly depressing, but something in between. It stretched the imagination a bit, and showed me the loneliness of space in a new way. Also, it had clones. I like it, and I recommend it to you.