In the future, the world’s energy problems have almost been completely solved with Earth no longer suffering from the cost of electricity and the environmental pratfalls associated with fossil fuels. 70 percent of all power needs are now being handled by Helium 3, a clean burning fuel harvested from rocks on the moon. Lunar Industries is a corporation that places massive, automated harvesters on the moon’s surface to gather the Helium 3, using a lone employee to oversee the operations from within the Selene moon base. This employee honors a 3-year contract before a replacement is sent to the moon and he then returns to Earth. In Moon, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is one of these Lunar Industry employees with only two weeks left on his contract. He is anxious to get back home to his wife and young daughter and it couldn’t happen at a better time, as lately he has been experiencing hallucinations and deteriorating health. Things get a bit more complicated while on a routine patrol to check on a harvester, when he is involved in an accident that has him waking up in the stations infirmary with his new replacement – an identical version of himself.
Duncan Jones has created a surprisingly effective sci-fi thriller for such a low-budget film with effective SFX that include great outdoor sequences and interior shots of Sam’s cramped living space that really sold the feeling that I was right there with Sam, isolated on the surface of the moon in a cold, corporate living quarter. But even had the effects not been passable, Moon’s real success would be largely dependent on the leading character’s performance. Sam is pretty much the only person the viewer will be watching for 1.5 hours aside from his only companion, a HAL-like robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Duncan Jones could not have made a better choice in picking Sam Rockwell to pull it off. He is one of the most likable actors working today, and aside from warming up to him immediately in the role of Sam, he is able to once again display his acting chops by presenting the varying degrees of deteriorated health, both mental and physical, his character endures throughout the film’s runtime.
Some nifty effects are employed with Rockwell playing both characters, and after awhile it is done so well that you forget that the two are the same actor. The interactions between the two have all the nuances and subtle gestures that any two people go through when holding a simple conversation. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I have seen enough movies with actors interacting with themselves – badly – that it was refreshing to see the technique done so well. It also helps that the two Sams are operating at opposite ends of the scale. One Sam being extremely sick and so overcome with loneliness that he doesn’t question the fact that he has a twin with him as much as he is just relieved to have someone to play Ping-Pong with. While the other Sam, healthy in both body and mind, keeps the film on track being better equipped to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
The use of Spacey as the voice of GERTY was also a nice touch, especially since GERTY is a prominent character in the film who plays a key role in the plot. His soothing, monotone vocal work fits perfectly with the machine whose only ability at displaying emotion comes in the form of smilies on a screen. Duncan Jones enlisted the help of film composer Clint Mansell (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) as the variations of his haunting piano theme fits the cold, isolation of space while still being effective when pumped up a bit during some of the tenser moments later in the film.
While the subjects of genetic tampering and what defines the difference between a Human Being from a Human being – what qualifiers need to be in place before we distinguish someone having a soul and not just a independently functioning tumor – Moon brings up some heavy subjects. Throw in a bit of Big, Bad Corporation with some “sacrificing a few for the many” and you have a recipe for a low-budget movie falling victim to a lot of finger wagging to go with the finger pointing. But thankfully, Duncan Jones presents the subject matter in a way that even the most casual sci-fi fan can get on board with while the more demanding still have enough questions raised and material to chew on to evoke more complex discussion. No sides are taken in the film, and there are no bad guys identified in Moon. Who is right or wrong will depend on the philosophy the individual viewer subscribes to.
If you are interested in science fiction with a lot of elaborate special effects and lasers, look elsewhere. But if you want some science fiction in the same vein as Blade Runner and 2001, films relying less on displaying future technology and more on displaying future technology when combined with the human condition, look no further than Moon.