Released 2009. Director: Duncan Jones
ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON, THE MINING INDUSTRY has set up operations which are almost entirely automated. Only one man is stationed. Sam, the solitary personnel on the lunar surface is coming to the end of his three-year contract before returning to Earth when he discovers he’s not alone. There is somebody else out there.
Moon is not about extra-terrestrials. It’s not a B-grade science fiction adventure about space creatures. Moon has more in common with 2001: A Space Odyssey than Alien. Unlike many big budget sci-fi productions that spend a huge chunk of their money on dazzling visuals at the expense of enthralling us with good storytelling, Moon takes us back to a time when big ideas don’t mean big actions.
So what is Sam’s unexpected discovery exactly? He finds himself. What does it mean he finds himself? Has he gone lunatic and started hallucinating? Who is this doppelganger that looks exactly like him, and how did he get there? These are some of the questions swimming in Sam’s head.
The directorial debut from Duncan Jones, son of the late David Bowie, is an existential thought exercise. The focus is not on solving a puzzle, for we soon learn, as the two Sams do, of their real identities, not through investigation, interrogation or shock discovery of secret documents in some drawer. Instead, Jones gives the two men a lot of time and a bit of space. Jones makes good use of the fluorescent-lit white interior where time passes between Sam 1 and Sam 2. A few words and a lot of quiet contemplation later the men come to the conclusion they are both copies of each other. They are clones, and neither of them is an original.
Echoes of Blade Runner reverberate in this sparse and sterile lunar chamber. These clones have a limited lifespan, and they yearn to be human. The memory of a past life on Earth and a wife and child Sam communicates via recorded video messages (now exposed to be pre-recorded by their company) is so real and life-affirming it gives Sam a reason to believe he’s really human.
Moon is very much a one-man show but Sam Rockwell’s note-worthy performance makes you forget that. We see the two Sams co-operating to achieve their common goal. What we don’t see is Sam Rockwell acting by himself, essentially interacting with visual effects. It’s a pair of complementary performances that understands each other, as it were. For those who are old enough to remember one-hit wonder Chesney Hawkes, there’s ironic humour is the use of his song ‘I Am The One And Only’ as Sam’s morning alarm.
Adding a sense of tension to the unknown is the all-knowing, all-doing supercomputer GERTY. Voiced by Kevin Spacey in a slippery, controlled and modulated diction, this artificial intelligence keep you guessing if it’s good or evil. Clearly GERTY is an updated HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which eventually killed the human astronaut.
In the small confines of a functional moon base without warmth or homeliness, Moon asks how a human being fits in. Does life have any value for the man who learns his life is being programmed to repeat endlessly, yet every three years he 'dies'? Even without any social connections on an inhospitable landscape, the need to be someone, to have a home, a family, can still exist and drive one to search for a deeper meaning – even if one may not be quite human.