Moon: A Sci-Fi Indie Eclipsing Summer Blockbusters
According to reports, this film cost $5 million to make. If this is the case, Duncan Jones should be placed in charge of America’s national budget. Moon is a gorgeous science fiction mind-bender, developing its tension from big ideas and character choices rather than action or explosions. Sam Rockwell delivers one of the best performances of the year so far, carrying the film on his shoulders– it’s difficult to remember a better sci-fi leading man in recent memory. The real joy in this film is the element of surprise, because your mind keeps assuming genre conventions will kick in. The clever script denies those who think they’re clever in the audience (yours truly included) the ability to accurately predict what will happen next, in terms of narrative, tone, and visuals.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is a contract worker on the moon. The moon is currently the source of 97% of the world’s energy, and someone needs to be up there if anything goes wrong. Sam is by himself, for a 3-year contract, on the moon, with no one to talk to but his computer Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey). We meet Sam with two weeks left before he returns home. Naturally, the film would be dull if little things didn’t start to play with Sam’s psychological health. He begins to see things– not big jump-scare moments, just times where he finds himself drifting slightly out of reality. The communications network is busted, so live communication with the Earth is impossible, adding to the sense of loneliness. Since we are familiar with the sci-fi genre, we suspect it will not be so easy for Sam to return home as scheduled.
It’s impossible to review films such as Moon without going into details regarding events some will not want spoiled. The entire basis of the plot rests on one such event, which will follow– skip down to the final paragraph if you would like to see Moon without any knowledge of the narrative twists. Also, please note that nearly every review out contains the same event, so be forewarned that it will be tricky to make it to this film with a totally clean slate unless you back away from all Internet research regarding its quality. Skip to the end now, the next two paragraphs will discuss the moment the plot kicks into gear and its effect thematically on the film.
Sam gets into an accident in one of his lunar buggies. When we see Sam next, he is waking up inside the main station, with no memory of the accident, and is being told by Gertie he is not to go outside. He makes it out, and finds the buggy still crashed. We begin to suspect something is amiss when the space suit he was wearing when he crashed is missing. We have our suspicions confirmed when Sam looks into the crashed buggy and finds… himself.
Jones creates considerable tension from this moment on based solely on the interplay between both Sams. Each suspects the other is actually a clone, they ponder whether they are both clones, and are concerned that maybe no happy ending waits for them at home. I wouldn’t dare reveal any of their discoveries. Let it suffice to say that the answers they find, the discoveries they make, and the developments in their relationship between each other continually turn in surprising ways, and instead of the typical turns this movie could have made (they plot to kill each other, the computer has evil plans for them, etc.), it aimed for thoughtful rather than thrilling, which in my humble opinion is the more thrilling route to take. The small differences in Rockwell’s performances as the two Sams stand as further proof that he is one of the more reliable and interesting actors working today– he can give a friendly vibe while also seeming somewhat seedy, like a guy you’d have a beer with but wouldn’t necessarily trust. This fits the roles beautifully (as it should– the part was reportedly written for him).
The spoilers end here. What must still be addressed is the pacing, which other reviews have described as slow. In what MTV-influenced, ADD-riddled universe are we currently living? Although I have been known to enjoy the occasional film that is, for lack of a nicer term, “deliberately paced,” this movie was compelling from the first to last frame. It’s thoughtful, beautiful, even funny at times. There’s a taut sense of mystery the entire film through. Jones does employ repetition and silence on occasion, but only as techniques to (successfully) convey the maddening loneliness that Sam is battling. If 2001: A Space Odyssey had come out during this time period, it would have been a flop, for it is far more “deliberately paced” than Moon is at even its slowest moments. Duncan Jones in his feature film debut shows a keen eye for camera movement and visual effects that makes his a career to watch in the coming years. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had a $200 million budget. If that movie could be traded in for 40 films with the ideas, imagery, and execution of Moon, I would do it in a heartbeat.