Eugene Weekly : Movies : 7.9.09


Man on the Moon
Duncan Jones’ debut is ready for lift-off
by Molly Templeton

MOON: Directed by Duncan Jones. Story by Jones. Written by Nathan Parker. Cinematography, Gary Shaw. Music, Clint Mansell. Starring Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. Sony Pictures Classics, 2009. 97 minutes. R.

Sam Rockwell in Moon

In the spare, gray and white confines of Sarang, a lunar mining base, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) rattles around alone. His three-year contract is ticking away, and Sam is going a little batty; a busted satellite has kept him from exchanging anything but recorded messages with his wife and daughter, and his only company is Gerty, a robot aide that speaks in Kevin Spacey’s detached, measured tones. Sam eats, exercises, sleeps, watches things on screens and tends to the machines that are mining a variant of helium, which is sent back to Earth for eco-friendly energy production.

Sam, as Moon begins, also sees things. After a vision-caused rover crash, Sam wakes up back in the base, though he doesn’t know how he got there. He’s no longer alone. He’s also not well.

Duncan Jones’ Moon is a compact, smartly made science fiction throwback of a film. Throwback is not meant as a criticism; in the film’s production notes, Jones twice references the great science fiction flicks of the late ’70s and early ’80s, from Alien to Blade Runner to 2001: A Space Odyssey (yes, Gerty will remind you of another robot). There is no horror movie overlay to Moon, nor are there the amped-up stakes or whiz-bang effects of some more recent space-set films. There is just one man, alone with himself and trying to understand a world, however distant it may be, that has suddenly and drastically turned out to be not at all what he thought it was.

Moon rests heavily on the shoulders of Sam Rockwell. Its score is unsettling and strangely pretty; its visions of the lunar landscape are believable; its bright, spacious yet claustrophobic moon base is well designed. But without Rockwell, Moon would have no weight. Sam Bell falls apart, mentally and physically; he takes things into his own hands and ventures beyond his comfort zone; he is forced to accept and comprehend things that call into question the nature of his existence. As Sam reminds the surprisingly helpful Gerty, it’s a robot; he is a person. But what does that mean? Along with its retro cousins, Moon is also a philosophical relation of Battlestar Galactica and Dollhouse. Slipped into its streamlined walls and smudged Apple keyboards are questions about what a person is, and what rights a variation on humanity as we know it might have. 

Moon likely won’t bowl you over. It mostly nods knowingly at classic science fiction themes while keeping one eye on Rockwell, for whom the story was written. But its thoughtful pacing and Rockwell’s impeccable performance make it more than welcome for those of us who always want more space in our stories about who and what we are.

Moon opens Friday, July 10, at the Bijou.