At The Picture Show
Alone in the dark
Sam Rockwell delivers a heartbreaking human portrait in impressive 'Moon'
Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Nathan Parker
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Dominique McElligott and Benedict
Rated R / 1 hour, 37 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)
Against the backdrop of an entire solar system, it's easy to feel insignificant,
hopeless, alone. Countless sci-fi dramas have touched on that experience, but the
latest to do so - Duncan Jones' Moon - takes it to a literal level. It is about one
man coming to understand his own irrelevance, in the starkest of terms and the
darkest of places.
All films set in space are about discovery in one way or another, and often that
discovery is some dangerous, spooky threat to our existence. Moon has none of
the terror and violence that so frequently accompany the desolate space drama, but
the threat to existence therein is of an even more sinister sort - for the very reason
that it is so quiet, so unassuming and covert.
The man in question is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell),
who is coming to the end of a three-year term alone aboard a lunar space station at
an energy harvesting site on the moon. His only companion is GERTY, a HAL
9000-esque robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey) that essentially keeps the station
Sam is naturally anxious to get back to Earth, but the three years of solitude have
done him good. The time away from his wife has eased the tension that nearly
broke up their marriage; he's mellowed out and grown up in his time alone, and his
3-year-old daughter will be awaiting him when he gets home.
What he discovers over the course of the film I can't divulge here, but I will say
that it changes his present circumstances entirely - and the circumstances of his
entire being. The enormity of this realization is brought along in gentle strokes by
director Duncan Jones, who creates a quiet unease and a confused sense of reality
for Sam as things begin to sink in.
Instead of playing up the initial shock through
traditionally dramatic means, Jones lets it unfold with an unsettling casualness.
Sam essentially takes it at face value, reacting with a pragmatic approach to the
apparent paradox he's just uncovered and now has to deal with. It's that very
pragmatism and matter-of-factness that sets Moon apart stylistically, forcing us to
get used to its ideas rather quickly.
Where the film works most is from an emotional standpoint - thanks primarily to
an astoundingly multi-faceted performance by Rockwell. It's a devastating portrait
of a rather overwhelming crisis of identity for Sam, not only for the existential
issue he comes face to face with but the decisions he has to make in response to it.
Few actors could pull off this level of performance quite as honestly.
But as well as Moon engages us on a human level, it also seems to sidestep the
social implications inherent in what's happening. Certain scientific and ethical
questions are raised that Jones curiously doesn't deal with. Is he ambivalent about
them? Or, on that note, do these issues only matter on a human level anyway?
I think they do - and I think we get a clue during the last 10 seconds of the movie
that Jones wants to explore them, but either couldn't figure out exactly how, or
decided it wasn't worth it. Is what we hear in the final 10 seconds, then, mere lip
No one's asking for a political treatise here, but a bit
more inquisitiveness may have been in order - especially considering we can all
see the ethical complications right on the story's surface. By largely disregarding
them, Jones leaves us wanting.
However, seeing Moon as an insulated, personal experience for Sam Bell is
rewarding enough as it is. Drawing inspiration from the balletic exploration of
space in 2001, the grungy, industrialized aesthetic of Alien and its ilk, and even the
surreal, dreamlike mood of Solaris - both Tarkovsky's original and Soderbergh's
remake - Jones has a surplus of reference points, but enhances those with ideas and
stylistic proclivities of his own.
Despite any reservations about the film's drawbacks, Moon and Jones himself -
making his feature-film debut - are far too promising to be ignored.
Read more by Chris Bellamy