Movie Review – Moon (2009)

by NIR SHALEV

moon

In Moon, director Duncan “Zowie” Jones, who also has a screen credit for original story, has concocted an ingenious film about a man who has lived on the moon for three years. It’s been a long time since a science fiction film boggled my mind with ideas about isolation, routine, and the popular ideal of being human.

The film opens with an in-depth visual presentation of an energy source called Helium 3; it’s been right under our collective nose for all this time because it exists on the moon.  Extracting it for transport down to Earth is the mission bestowed on astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell).  Actually Sam’s more of a technician than an astronaut because practically everything on his tiny moon base is computer operated.  The only physical work he needs to perform is to drive a large moon buggy down to the machine that is harvesting the Helium 3 resource, drive it back to the base, and then send the Helium 3 to the Earth.

When he isn’t working Sam is busy controlling the stability of his mental health.  Isolated on a white plane that stretches on for endless miles, Sam is alone and has been so for almost three years. He had signed a three year contract with a large American-Korean, Earth-based company and only a couple of weeks remain on his contract. An artificially intelligent robotic assistant named GERTY (voiced with melancholic and serene perfection by Kevin Spacey) is the only source of conversation Sam has had for the past 3 years, although he’s exchanged numerous video messages with his wife and baby daughter.

We see Sam running on a treadmill, boxing a speed bag, skipping rope, building a meticulously detailed miniature village based on his home town, and even watering a small container garden he had planted. He has named every one of the plants and carries on one-sided conversations with them.

We, the audience are being asked several questions during these segments of the film: why would any man subject himself to three years of isolation when he has a wife and daughter back home? How long can someone mentally last up there on the moon? If it was us in that situation, what would we preoccupy ourselves with to pass the time?

Those are question that reflect the first act of the film only; but treading onto the second and third acts would be a spoiler the size of our galaxy. All I can say is that this is a science fiction film that showcases a commentary on the corporate world and it also deals with existential questions of what it means to be human.

For the first third of the film Sam Bell is entirely alone, his only “personal” contact being GERTY’s voice and his wife’s video messages. The film reportedly had a small budget of five million dollars and was shot entirely on a set; the limitations perversely allow Rockwell to freely express every emotion with clarity as our focus is always on him. We always know what Sam Bell is thinking and that takes great talent, seeing that he’s losing his mind. Sam Bell isn’t portrayed with an overacting style and the realism of Rockwell’s performance helps us feel his character’s isolation and detachment from the human race.  A tour-de-force is what we are experiencing and we realize how big a small-scale film can really be.

We are subjected to the moon base’s compressed and bland interiors; the moon base is white inside and out and its textures are repetitive. That’s a constructive choice that showcases repetition, routine, and the fact that architectural designs in space do not need to look elaborate. After all, it’s our daily workplace and we cannot be distracted by blinking lights and detailed fixtures.

The film was shot with miniature models instead of CGI which helps the special effects to look more realistic, like back in the days of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). However, much like those classics, this film is not about the effects: it is a character study, a drama about the reality of space and of its cold immensity.

I can’t single out a specific part of this film that I enjoyed more than another because it works so well as a whole; everything in the film is great. Sam Rockwell should be nominated for an Oscar for his brave and lonesome performance and so too should the screenplay by Nathan Parker, based on Duncan Jones’s story. If there is one aspect of the film to criticize it’s that the third act is too perfect in its execution; the ending too neat and tidy. Then again, it makes me feel great knowing that no loose ends are left at all and that the film is, in fact perfect.

4 stars

2 responses to “Movie Review – Moon (2009)

  1. Rockwell’s performance is great as you say. I really like your commendation that we always know what Sam is thinking even as he’s losing his mind!

  2. The acting is central to the success of the film, but the homage to Kubrick in the screenplay needs to be complimented. Several scenes work because we know from 2001 what to expect, and then plausibly encounter the unexpected.

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