Here’s my problem reviewing director Duncan Jones’ neat little 2009 indie space flick Moon:
It has two big plot twists, one occurring relatively early in the film.
Now, there are times when I put a spoiler warning at the beginning of a post and those who haven’t seen the film I’m writing about have the choice to charge ahead anyway.
But the plot twists in Moon are so integral to the overall story, it feels wrong to reveal them even to those who don’t mind spoilers.
What to do, what to do?
O.K. Here we go. I’m going to take a bash at talking about what makes this film so special without giving too much away.
In an unspecified time in the near future, the Earth has found a new source of energy to replace fossil fuels. An international conglomerate has set up a station on the dark side of the moon to mine lunar soil, which is rich in helium-3. The station is so automated it only requires a one-man operation to keep it running.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three-year contract as caretaker of the station. Deeply lonely, his only companion is a robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). The live feed from Earth is chronically out of order, so his only human contact is taped messages from his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and little daughter Eve.
Sam begins to suffer from what seem to be hallucinations of a teenage girl. Working in a lunar vehicle only two weeks from the end of his contract, the hallucination causes him to crash it.
When he wakes up in the infirmary, he has no memory of the crash. GERTY tells him he is forbidden to go outside and resume work until he is totally healed. Sam contrives an emergency and persuades GERTY to let me go out.
Here is where the story twists in an unexpected direction. I’m going to tell you the WHAT, but not the WHY:
Sam finds a man who looks exactly like him unconscious in the lunar vehicle.
So, who is this extra Sam? Is he real? An AI like GERTY? Has the solitude on the moon, exacerbated by the accident, caused Sam to start to crack up mentally?
The two Sams, distrustful and even antagonistic with each other at first, eventually collaborate to discover the truth.
This was the first feature film by British director Duncan Jones (who, by the way, is the son of rock star icon David Bowie). Jones, who also co-wrote the script, creates a tight, compelling film with an almost paper-thin premise that depends almost entirely on the performance of its lead actor.
Rockwell more than rises to the challenge. Rockwell, who won his first Academy Award this year, has been one of the best working character actors for a couple of decades now. He does a phenomenal job of expressing the two Sams’ denial, fears, and palpable loneliness.
The thing that’s most striking about Moon is its plausibility, even its biggest plot twist. The film is a contemplation of the human price paid for space exploration (and I say that as a big proponent of the space program), technological advancement (remember, the helium-3 has solved the energy crisis and perhaps global warning), and unbridled capitalism.
What the film owes to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has been acknowledged by Jones, but he takes that inspiration in a somewhat different direction. GERTY at first comes across as an ominous presence (the ever-changing smiley face on it genuinely freaked me out the first time I saw the film), then proves itself to have more humanity than Sam’s employers.
While the film won several awards (mostly BAFTA and independent film awards), it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire when it first premiered. In some ways, it seems even more relevant nine years after its release. It is currently available for streaming on Netflix and certainly worth your time if you love space films.