(2009) dir. Duncan Jones
Moon is a semi-throwback of a science fiction film, a cerebral, intellectual story about a man and his isolation, his psychology, sense of self, memory and being. It reckons more of films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), ringing more in tune with the 1970’s than much of more recent science fiction that I’ve seen (though I must admit I was brought to mind of Christmas on Mars (2008) more than once).
Also, another nod to the 1970’s is that Duncan Jones, the writer and director of Moon is the son of David Bowie, whose song “Space Oddity” is also about the lone man in space, lost in space.
And certainly, the film’s strength is in its cerebral subject, a lone man on the Moon, played by Sam Rockwell in probably the first thing that I’ve ever liked Sam Rockwell in. There is a bit of a mystery at the core. Sam Rockwell’s character has been stationed on his own on the moon, harvesting Helium 3, which exists in abundance there and is now (back on Earth) a primary fuel. He’s been there 3 years all by himself, with only a Kevin Spacey-voiced robot thing to keep him company. He starts hallucinating. Then he has a crash.
When he awakes, he’s fine, but as the station is locked down, he gets curious, goes out onto the moon’s surface and discovers his doppelganger, still alive, though badly injured in the crashed vehicle. Is it a ghost? Is he imagining himself? If so, which one is imagining the other? All along, he longs for his wife and 3 year old daughter, who he is due to meet when his 3 year shift comes to an end in a fortnight.
But see, this is perhaps where the film’s concept might have succeeded in the 1970’s better than today. The fact that the moon is the isolation point for a man for 3 years? That his communications with the planet have to be sent and cannot be back-and-forth in real time? That it would be necessary to have one man take a shift like that? The moon isn’t that far away.
It comes back to the old joke, “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t cure the common cold.” In this case, they can put a man on the moon, harvest a rich natural resource, have him communicate with his employers, but no one can come visit him for three years?
Of course, as the story plays out, other questions and issues arise that perhaps make those issues moot, but still, it might have made more sense if he wasn’t on the moon, but maybe much further away, like on a moon of another planet. But then it wouldn’t be “Moon” as meaningfully for us on Earth?
I thought the film was a potential drudgery experience and am not 100% sure why I queued it up. But it’s actually pretty good. Rockwell does a good job playing both versions of himself and they have a little fun with it, getting him to play ping pong against himself with two very different styles of play. I don’t think that the film reaches the levels of import or meaning that the Kubrick or Tarkovsky have been appreciated for, though clearly Jones and crew are influenced by those films and filmmakers.
It’s neither a space odyssey nor a space oddity, but it is not altogether uninteresting.