Monday, November 22, 2010

Moon

Space.  Apparently, it gets lonely there.  In the tradition of lonely astronaut movies like Solaris and 2001: A Space Baby comes Moon, a movie that has Sam Rockwell on screen for the entire length of the picture.  And that's a good thing.  I just find it interesting that, of all the movie genres, science fiction has shown me the most "lonely guy" stories, where the entire film depends on one actor, because it's all about his character.  Heck, even the notoriously lonely Jeremiah Johnson had a larger cast than this movie.

Moon is set on --- you guessed it! --- the moon; specifically, it is set in a mining base on the dark side of the moon.  Shockingly, the dark side of the moon does not have fantastic laser shows or old people getting high.  What it has is a group of largely automated helium harvesters.  Despite the automation, a human is needed to monitor progress and fix anything that goes wrong; it's cheaper to keep the maintenance guy on the moon than to fly him out on a spaceship every time something goes wrong.  As such, the sole occupant of the base, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has plenty to keep him occupied (like, say, naming his plants and building a scale model of his home town), but he is eager for his three-year assignment to end in two weeks.  The whole gig wouldn't be so bad if the base's communications devices ever worked; Sam gets infrequent video chat messages from his wife, Tess, but he is really incommunicado and out of step with everything happening on Earth.  Sam's only companion in the base is GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), a robotic assistant that has a soothing voice (Kevin Spacey), but is limited in its expressiveness.  To give you an idea, here are his emoticons:
I hate emoticons, so that would drive me absolutely nuts.  Of course, staying three years with only a robot for company might do that to me anyway.  One day, Sam notices a malfunction at one of the harvesting machines and goes out to inspect it.  Along the way, he hallucinates and sees an unfamiliar woman standing on the moon's surface.  Distracted, he crashes his little moon buggy and passes out.  Sam awakes back in the base, with GERTY telling him that he had an accident that he cannot remember.  After undergoing some basic tests to make sure his noodle is still working, life goes on as usual for Sam.  Except when he almost catches GERTY on a live video chat with the corporate office.  And, for some reason, GERTY won't let him out of the base to fix a faulty harvesting machine.  The man is only human (and bored), so Sam does some minor sabotage in the base to give GERTY reason to allow him out of the base.  Once out and about on the moon, Sam heads to the damaged harvester and finds a wrecked moon buggy, complete with a live (but injured) passenger.  But why does this passenger look exactly like Sam Bell?  Anyone?  GERTY?  Any guesses?

Thoughtful science fiction movies are not for everyone, I will admit, but I love when I can find a good one.  First-time director and co-writer Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie and owner of the middle name Zowie) does a great job developing a film full of isolation and low-level dread and still finding moments for humor and optimism.  Sam Rockwell does a decent job in the film's first act, but he gets a chance to really shine once both Sam Bells are awake and interacting onscreen.  This is definitely the best non-Van Damme movie (to be fair, nobody can beat the master) to feature the same actor playing dual roles that I can recall.  This is another instance of how good Sam Rockwell can be; he plays two different Sam Bells and is able to make them distinct characters.  That's pretty fantastic.  Rockwell has been one of my favorite actors for the past few years because any one of his roles could make him a household name, they're all that good, and this role is no different.

The film is slow paced, but the story is good.  The mystery of the Sam Bells is answered quickly and is what you probably already suspect, so you're not drawn in to a serious puzzle.  Instead, this is a film about the concept of identity.  That may make the film sound pretentious, but this concept is addressed subtly and through two characters going through very different emotions, despite being the same person.  You might notice many similarities to 2001, with regards to the set and character design.  While the parallels are too obvious to be coincidence, I'm not quite sure if this is supposed to be an homage to that film, or if this movie is just supposed to take place in the future, as we imagined it back in the 70s.  The only complaint I have for this movie is that I felt the plot was a little easy to predict.  That's not a terrible thing, since the plot is really secondary to the conceptual core, but it was a minor flaw in an otherwise great sci-fi film.

3 comments:

  1. There were too many giant plot holes (i.e the dark side of the moon is not always dark [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_side_of_the_Moon] and I will not even start to pick apart the end) for me to really enjoy this one. Which is a shame because I loved the concept and fully agree with you on Sam Rockwell.

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  2. Which end did you have the problem with? The science and logic of the end, or the end that you hear bits and pieces of through the credits? I'll respect either, but I'm just curious.

    And I don't see how the dark side of the moon is a plot hole. The biggest plot hole I see is how GERTY could have ended the movie at any given time, but my computer occasionally gives me first-hand experience with the stupidity of computers and their programming, so I didn't mind it much.

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