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Moon

a film by Duncan Jones

Moon is the story of Sam Bell (played with the courage of a thousand moons by Sam Rockwell) the sole human inhabitant of Lunar Industries' base on the dark side of that titular moon. It is the relatively near future and we meet Sam as he is just ending his three year mission to mine Earth’s primary source of energy, Helium-3. It's a lonely job made even lonelier by the fact that all communications are down. Sam's only companion is a robot named Gerty (an obvious allusion to Kubrick's HAL 3000, soothingly, droningly voiced by Kevin Spacey) but this is no substitute for actual human contact. We begin to notice immediately that this loneliness is getting to Sam. Headaches and hallucinations seem to be the norm for him.

It is during an accident suffered on the lunar surface that things begin to get really weird for Sam. Rescued and brought back inside the base, Sam first confronts what appears to be a clone of himself - or perhaps just the hallucination of a clone of himself - or perhaps a dream of an hallucination of a clone of himself. Whatever the case (and I won't spoil any plot twists or turns here) one thing is for sure - Sam is in trouble. Literally, figuratively, psychologically, Sam has gone off the proverbial (and inevitable considering he has been in virtual isolation for three long long years!) deep end and there may be no coming back from such a dive. The forebodingness is on the wall - and it may come from the most unexpected of places.

With more than an obvious wink and nod to both 2001 and Solaris (not to mention Marooned, 2010, Mission to Mars and Alien!), Duncan Jones' film probably owes its biggest debt of gratitude - its largest debt of homage if you will - to the director's famous father and his alter ego than to either one of those very heavy (much heavier than here) metaphorical space happenings. David Bowie's 1969 hit Space Oddity, the story of a lonely astronaut named Major Tom who wants nothing more than to just come down from space and go home to his family (exactly what Sam Bell wants!), may very well be the real inspiration behind the glam rock god's offspring's directorial debut. This familial link is what adds an even deeper, quite unexpected sense of dread to the director's already unsettling film.

Although the song is never so much as even mentioned in the film, let alone played, it is the mood of Bowie - or should I say of Ziggy Stardust - and the haunting imagery of that song and the emptiness emanating from the singer's melodic vocals that hover over Moon - for good or for bad - and give Jones' film a nagging underlying specter of foreboding. We just know nothing good will come out of the film's situation and more importantly (at least on a more personal, character level) happiness is not to be our hero's destiny here. No matter what else happens, whether he survives or not, whether he is rescued or not, whether he goes insane or not, he is doomed to this lonely, abstract, preternatural destiny and no one or nothing can save him. Not the director. Not the director's father. No one. He is all alone - even when he is with someone it is himself he is with and therefore, he is utterly alone.

Now, as with everything, there is both good and bad. The bad here being the gaping holes in the story's logic. This lack in storytelling judgment seems to be wider and deeper than even the Sea of freaking Tranquility (I had to take a stab at another lunar bon mot at some point didn't I?). Okay, perhaps I am leading the critical charge a bit too eagerly ( chanting "the end is nigh" like a mad street preacher!). After all, though there are flaws in the storytelling, the film itself breathes with a claustrophobic power that, even though never reaching the height, aspires to be another Solaris. Another 2001. Another Alien.

In the end, Jones' film feels as trapped as his protag does. Never quite reaching the lofty aspirations it so obviously has and playing out as inadvertently shallow, Moon does give the whole shebang the most heart felt college try. But then perhaps one needs just to implement their own sense of suspension of disbelief toward the logic problems and turn the other cheek from the desire the film (and filmmaker) has to be something it can never be (mainly 2001 or Solaris). Forget the illogical and forgive the shallowness. For once you get past the gaping abyss of implausibility and the wannabe heritage, and look at Moon as the psychological thriller it really is - sort of Hitchcock in space, an Alien without the aliens - you can be entertained, in spite of its flaws. Perhaps getting past these gaffes one can be entertained in a completely different way.

The thing that really gets you right past these missteps is the performance(s) of Rockwell in the lead (and secondary) role of Sam Bell. Rockwell's star-crazy lunar loner is a (pardon the cliche) tour de force role that was made for the actor just as much as the actor may have been born to play said role. Simultaneously emoting both pathos and bravura, the oft-overlooked Rockwell as both the figurative Major Tom and his hallucinatory cellmate so to speak, is right in his element here. Emulating the fear of Tarkovsky's lost cosmonaut as well as the sense of survival of Kubrick's machine-battling Dave ("I'm sorry Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.") though with a much more benevolent computer sidekick, Rockwell is a superb thing in a film that could easily have fallen to proverbial pieces otherwise. His trapped hero may be doomed but he will fight to the very end - no matter what that end may be.

To close with a quote from the director's Space Oddity dad, a lyric from that aforementioned song that subliminally hangs over the whole film, a lyric that sums up Sam Bell's predicament. "Planet Earth is blue and there's nothing I can do". [09/10/09]

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