2009, R, 97 min. Directed by Duncan Jones. Voice by Kevin Spacey. Starring Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario, Matt Berry, Benedict Wong, Malcolm Stewart.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 10, 2009
Any cinematic space odyssey of the past 40 years surely owes a debt to Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey; Moon's most obvious debt is the strategic use of a computer that has a cozy name (Gerty to 2001's HAL) and maybe homicidal tendencies. But where 2001, so maddening and inscrutable, wanted to blow your mind (R.I.P., 1968), Moon wants to explore the less exotic terrain – cosmically speaking, at least – of inner space. At the tail end of a three-year contract manning alone a moon-based drilling station, Sam Bell (Rockwell) has grown a little twitchy from all the isolation. The live feed was knocked out some time ago and never repaired, so he subsists on pretaped messages from his Earth-bound wife and toddler daughter. In the void, Sam has developed an easygoing rapport with Gerty, a motorized CPU that trails him like a worried mother. (Gerty pushes Sam to eat something; Sam replies, "My tummy's a little tender but thank you.") Gerty's "moods" are expressed by a yellow smiley face, with skepticism or concern tendered in a shift of the eyebrows, a squiggle of the mouth line; it's a marvel of low-tech ingenuity that, in concert with the soothing voice work of Spacey, produces an actual character for Rockwell to play off of. Not that Rockwell would need it … and here's right about where you're going to want to stop reading if you haven't seen Moon yet. (Massive spoiler alert ahead.) Not only does Rockwell convince us of a connection with a machine crafted largely in post, he does that neat feat one better by creating multiple, indelible versions of, and relationships among, the same man. Turns out the Sam Bell we've grown to care for – ragged-edged, but thoughtful and patient – isn't the first Sam Bell, nor is he the last. Corporate boss Lunar Industries made a whole host of Sam clones, winding a model down when the three-year contract expires and then firing up a new Sam to start all over again. (How's that for a Sisyphean kick in the teeth?) A Gerty error results in two Sam Bells at once, and new Sam – quick to anger and Tom Cruise-cool in aviator shades and flight suit – is a startling throwback for original Sam: a corporeal reminder of the man he used to be, one he went all the way to the moon to improve upon. Nathan Parker's script (from Duncan's original story idea) doesn't belabor the point, but there's something rather thrilling in the idea that new Sam's maturation and mellowing – which would have presumably progressed in the same three-year trajectory as original Sam's – have been irrevocably altered by their meeting. In fact, Moon doesn't belabor anything, really, so confidently measured and philosophically nuanced it all plays out (aided by a striking, under-the-skin original score by Clint Mansell). If Jones felt any first-film jitters, they are nowhere to be seen in his debut film, the technical proficiencies of which belie the relatively low budget. Cheeky asides leaven what is essentially an existential bummer, as in Sam's morning wake-up music (cheeseball Eighties rocker "I Am the One and Only") and a title sequence that riffs on Saul Bass' terrific, slanting script opener for North by Northwest (a far different kind of identity twister). But in the cold, black bleakness of space, where Moon really soars is in the connections – unholy, maybe, but heartfelt – between man and machine and between man and his better angels. (See "Sitting in a Tin Can, Where Hell Is Still Other People," for an interview with the director.)