Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the lone human operator of a Helium 3 mining station on the dark side of the moon. In the future presented, Helium 3 is a dream fuel which has solved global warming and pollution and provided the world with the clean, plentiful fuel of which it is now in dire need. Bell seem gung-ho and dedicated. He has three weeks or so left to go until his trip home to see his wife, Tess, and daughter, Eve, who seems to have been born since his departure from Earth.
Bell passes his time building a model town he calls "Fairfield" and drawing long lines of smiley faces which indicate the days left until his return home, and seems to enjoy the relief of exiting his living quarters and home base to harvest full tanks of fuel to rocket to earth or to repair automated mining systems. He does seem to be starting to feel a bit under the weather.
The film is shown mostly from Sam's point of view, so when he awakens after an accident and finds another Sam Bell now sharing the station with him, he, and the audience, are disoriented, and get to follow the clues with him as he attempts to discover the true nature of his presence on the moon.
Moon is the first film from Duncan Jones, who just happens to be David Bowie's son, and one does think about "Space Oddity" when watching the film, perhaps not exactly what the son would hope. But in a way, that song is its own movie, and the movie is its own song, and in their own ways, they are as frightening, meditative and ambiguous, in a thoughtful way, as the other. That the film has its own driving, haunting score from Clint Mansell, whose impact really stays with you after the movie ends and blends nicely with the thoughts it leaves you to ponder, is also a major strength.
As the suspense builds, one begins to notice that, though Sam Rockwell is the main featured actor, other characters besides the two Sam Bells are as integral to the story as they. GERTY is the station's computer attendant/butler/substitute miner/amanuensis/operator, voiced by Kevin Spacey, and his actions are always questionable. This character borrows a lot from HAL-9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey, certainly in terms of added menace in the audience's expectations, but this does not turn out quite the way one might expect.
Another computer voice, the announcer of the moon rover, is also effective and provides some comic relief. Sam's absent wife and child are omnipresent to him, in messages and in his thoughts. And mining company officials who only communicate with him at a distance, and a crew they send to investigate operations, are more menacing than even the techno-cold robots.
Moon goes slowly, and is patient, letting the questions it raises find their full fruition in the audience's mind before placing certain plot cards on the table. When it does set them down, they are still ambiguous, subject to a larger frame of questions, so that even when simple questions are answered simply, qualms and nagging suspicions persist.
Rockwell is excellent in his (at least) dual role, and cabin fever times two is very interesting to watch. Spacey is also good, and the interface of a yellow smiley face which sometimes changes to looks of questioning, concern or sympathy is surprisingly effective (as well as bringing to mind The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, in all its iterations, but specifically the neglected but fine 2005 version with Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed President of the Galaxy).
Moon raises questions of identity, technology, corporatism and human ethics in a deceptively simple but troubling way. Despite visual and plot similarities with 2001, it really has much more the feel of a Philip K. Dick or Ray Bradbury story (or even an O. Henry story) than a more cosmic Arthur C. Clarke tale, though its implications are as universal. People may disagree about what actually happens, though the film provides a fairly comprehensible storyline and seems to follow through with it in a factual way right up to the end. But was that really....Or could that really...?
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