Moon, the debut feature from director Duncan Jones, is a movie I think I might have a tough time reviewing. Granted, I’m never much good at writing positive reviews because I just seem to overuse adjectives and sentences and this and that.
(It’s just so much easier for me to pinpoint what didn’t work about something rather than honing in on what did, and to the point of absolute emotional elation, to boot.) But Moon is a whole other type of challenge for me because, while I loved it completely, it’s a movie that I’m compelled to tell everything and nothing about.
I’m afraid, however, that I’m going to have to favor nothing a little bit more, and, as such, this may end up being a relatively short review (for me, at least). Moon is a movie that you really ought to know as little as possible about before going into it. I expected one thing—one thing I knew I was sure to like—and got something quite a bit different, which I loved. If you’ve seen a trailer for it, then you know enough and I’d encourage you to not seek out any more information than that.
Here are the basics, however; a little something to get you started. Sam Rockwell plays Sam (which must have been a nice change for him), an astronaut stationed for a three-year shift operating the Lunar Enterprises facility located on the moon which has been supplying the Earth with an abundant source of energy. Sam is the only one there—his only companionship comes from a HAL-9000-like computer system by the name of GERTY (eerily voiced by Kevin Spacey) and infrequent video messages from his wife and daughter (as he’s unable to communicate with them via live feed).
Having been entirely alone and without direct human contact for nearly three years now, it’s no wonder that his mind is starting to play a few tricks on him. Lucky for him, however, he has two weeks left in the facility before his contract is up and a new person is brought in to take over. But a lot could happen in those two weeks.
What’s so compelling about this film is that it’s not exactly what you’d expect, based on that premise (and the trailer), and yet it also totally is. I expected a quiet, brooding, atmospheric film (and it is all of those things) about loneliness and how the lead character descends into madness because of it. However, it’s not a descent-into-madness movie, and yet it is. It’s not exactly a contemplation on loneliness, and yet it is. In truth, Moon creates such an original tapestry as to pose a quite literal—and entirely sensible—exploration of what it’s like when the only person there is to talk to and the only person there is to save you are both you.
It fascinated me, though, how well this film works into the sphere of modern science-fiction—it’s not merely a character story wrapped up in a surreal existential conundrum. It’s a film with a plot…and a damn good one, at that. If you don’t start to find yourself slowly scooting towards the edge of your seat as each thread unravels, then maybe Transformers is simply as good as sci-fi is ever going to get for you (and for your soul, I weep).
Moon keeps its own plot and mythology chugging along perfectly, while its deeper issues are so beautifully understated that you’ll barely notice the devastation creeping up on you. Moon ultimately makes for one of the most satisfying science fiction movies I’ve seen in quite some time—it has both the mechanics of an Isaac Asimov story and the unsettling poignancy of an Andrei Tarkovsky film rolled up into one big, meaty whole.
And there aren’t a lot of actors that I think could handle the task of being pretty much the only person ever seen throughout the course of an entire movie, but Sam Rockwell is certainly one of them. Rockwell is always a fascinating actor to watch, and Moon is probably his best performance to date (and wholly worthy of Oscar consideration, if you ask me).
He’s got quite the hefty task to take on here, not only in terms of the psychological weight that the performance needs, but also in the fact that he needs to carry the entire film on his shoulders and make sure not to put the audience to sleep. In that regard, I can’t help but half-wonder if the role was written for Rockwell—what other modern actor could honestly pull off what he does here? It’s an extraordinary performance and I hope that people in high places remember it come awards season.
Finally, I think GERTY needs a little bit of a mention here. Here’s something else that you can expect to play out in a way that’s not quite how you’re expecting (unless, of course, trying to do so makes your mind explode). The machine is quite obviously an homage to the HAL-9000 from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, what with its camera-eye and monotonously soothing drone of a voice (I can’t help but feel that this was the role that Kevin Spacey was born to play). In this incarnation, the computer comes complete with its own shifty-eyed yellow smiley face, reacting to Sam with a catalog of expressions that show only happy, sad, and unsure, and yet they always seem way more complex, knowing, and suspicious than that.
But, who knows, really? GERTY’s not malicious, but we still don’t trust him. Maybe that’s the fault (or the subtle blessing) of all the anti-machine movies that came before it: the 2001s as well as the Matrixes and the Terminators. We can’t trust the machine, and it kills us knowing that Sam has no choice—it’s all he’s got. Things become even more fascinating when it becomes GERTY who needs to trust Sam…but does he, really? Or is he just humoring poor Sam?
Oh, there’s so much more I want to say but can’t! Moon is a fascinating piece of science fiction, and in a year that’s already given us this plus Star Trek and has both District 9 and Avatar on the way, we can rest assured knowing that a terrific life is being breathed into the genre and all its forms—from the most accessibly entertaining to the most quietly contemplative. Duncan Jones is a new name for me—and for most—but I am looking quite forward to his next cinematic venture.
Moon is one of the year’s absolute best films and a true testament to movie-making: a picture where the whole equals far more than the sum of its parts, but the sum’s so damn interesting that it didn’t even need to worry about the whole in the first place. It’s playing currently in select cities and opening a little bit wider every week—it’s one you’ll have to look for, but it’s well worth the search.