Satisfying sci-fi miniature gets Spacey ... and Rockwell, too
Directed by Duncan Jones
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
In a year that’s featured the likes of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (ugh), Terminator Salvation (meh) and Star Trek (eh ... ), it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a science-fiction film you can proudly call science fiction. Happily, Moon—the intriguing directing debut by Duncan Jones—fits the bill. Filled with profound sadness, deep humanism and aching beauty, Moon would fit comfortably on the DVD shelf alongside such tonally similar sci-fi hallmarks as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and Silent Running.
The film is shot on a micro budget and features essentially one actor, one set. Sam Rockwell (Choke, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) commands the stage as Sam Bell, an astronaut limping to the end of a lonely, three-year contract running an isolated helium-mining station on the dark side of the moon. As the station’s sole occupant, Sam’s only interaction comes in the form of recorded messages from his wife back home on Earth and conversations with the station’s sentient, smiley-faced computer GERTY (voiced, HAL 9000-style, by Kevin Spacey). With only two weeks to go (a mantra he repeats often), Sam is showing signs of cracking. He’s starting to hallucinate, seeing human figures around the empty moon base and having increasingly vivid dreams of his absent wife.
One day, while out exploring the surface of the moon in a rover vehicle, Sam stumbles across the injured body of a fellow astronaut—which would be great news if the astronaut weren’t, well, him. Yes, it’s another Sam. Or the same Sam. Or something. Now Sam can’t tell if he’s coming or going. Literally. Confused and terribly unsure of his own sanity, Sam tries to figure out how he and a younger, more cynical version of himself can both exist in the same time and place.
There’s actually a fairly obvious explanation for this heady situation, and Moon doesn’t keep it hidden for long. Jones (who also concocted the intricate story for the film) isn’t interested in holding out for some sort of M. Night Shyamalan twist ending. Less than halfway through the film, the rather logical storyline is explicated, and Sam spends the rest of the film simply dealing with it. Like all really good science fiction, Moon is less about technology and more about people coping with the far-reaching implications of said technology. Who are we? Where are we going as a species? What makes us human? How do we “find ourselves” when, apparently, we’re standing right in front of ourselves?
One of the minor secrets of this film is that its creator, Mr. Jones, is better known by the name Zowie Bowie. Yes, he’s the son of glam king songster David Bowie. Being the spawn of Ziggy Stardust, you’d think Moon would have more trippy, “Major Tom”-style implications. Jones, however, is his own man and seems to favor a slow, melancholic, rather minimalist approach. Moon isn’t a zippy, action-packed film. It’s very small, very intimate (you could even say claustrophobic) and a bit more of a “think piece” than the average moviegoer might care for. But as a debut film, it’s a hell of an impressive effort. The script is smart, the effects are seamless, the setting is immersive and the actors (well, actor, mostly) offer their emotional best. The ending is as flat-out satisfying as these things come. If Jones can do this much with this little, hold on to your hats when the kid gets a real budget.