With all eyes currently turned towards the moon on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of first lunar landing and the longest solar eclipse of the century in Asia, Duncan Jones commemorates cold majesty and mystery of Earth’s satellite with a neat, modest science fiction story that, like the best of the genre, isn’t so much about speculating on the future as investigating relevant questions about what it means to be human and living in the world today.
Moon is practically a one-man show. The frequently underrated Sam Rockwell shows himself here, as he did in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to be an engaging presence, quite capable of carrying the leading role in a movie and almost doing it entirely by himself. As an employee working a three-year contract alone on the moon for a commercial enterprise, it’s Sam Bell’s job to monitor the diggers excavating the Moon’s surface to generate power to boost the depleted reserves of natural resources on Earth. He’s not quite alone, but his only companion is a highly intelligent computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey), who manages the moon-base and looks after Sam’s every needs, coolly, calmly and unemotionally. And while I would have preferred a more anonymous voice than Kevin Spacey, he does bring an effective HAL sense of menace to GERTY, one cleverly given an additional curiously sinister and disconcerting touch through the computer’s use of smilies to express emotions.
With only two weeks left to serve of his contract before he returns home however, Sam is starting to experience strange hallucinations, and when he recovers from a minor accident on one of the outside exploration vehicles and notices GERTY starting to exhibit strange behaviour, he discovers that all is not quite what it appears to be on the moon-base.
Inevitably, the setting and the human questions raised bring to mind some of the classics of the science-fiction genre – Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Scott’s Blade Runner – but while the debut feature of Duncan Jones (I think everyone knows who is famous father is by now) is a much more modest affair than those epic movies, the points it makes are essentially the same. It may not find any new angles or pull any surprises for anyone familiar with the genre’s themes, but the director plays them like an old half-remembered song, ensuring that all the notes come just at the moment you anticipate them and that they ring true. With Sam Rockwell delivering a fine, sympathetic, everyman performance and effective, minimal use of special effects (effects that look more traditionally achieved rather than relying too much on CGI), the film touches on all those necessary human emotions and fears, of isolation, alienation and corporate greed in an understated but thoroughly engaging and meaningful way.