“I’m here to keep you safe, Sam. I want to help you.”
‘Moon’, directed by Duncan Jones in 2009, is a British science fiction drama featuring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, the sole occupant of a moon base at the end of a three year mining mission. With his only company a computer called GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey, Bell is showing the strain of his isolation and begins to hallucinate. Distracted by his visions he crashes a rover and is injured only to be rescued by someone who shouldn’t exist. This leads to a thrilling mystery story and a mediation on the nature of self and scientific ethics. It’s a tricksy and mind-bending movie, oddly for me reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Christopher Priest’s ‘The Prestige’. Rockwell’s performance in the film is fantastic, the actor managing to construct and balance the shifting personalities of the central character. The revelation early in the film didn’t surprise me, but the real pleasure came from the way the movie played with genre expectations. Jones draws on movies such as ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Silent Running’ and Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris’ and seems to recognise that his audience is likely to make the connections. Like HAL in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, GERTY is initially a menacing presence with the same impassive voice but with the brilliant but eerie addition of emoticons to demonstrate the computer’s attitude. Unlike HAL, GERTY’s role in the film is less threatening as the movie progresses. Similarly, the hallucinations in the film seem to connect ‘Moon’ to ‘Solaris’, but unlike Tarkovsky who intentionally resisted giving explanations, the visions in ‘Moon’ are rationalised and become a symptom of the issues forming the central plot rather than the plot itself. At times, ‘Moon’ seems to tease the viewer by going down well-trodden paths taken by earlier movies and then diverting. In this way, Jones genuinely surprises the viewer and the resultant film remains immersive and engrossing.
Would I recommend it? Yes – watch (as I did) in a double bill with ‘Solaris’ or ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ if you have the time. There’s a branch of dystopian science fiction that seems to react against the family feel of the television series ‘Star Trek’ and the ‘Star Wars’ movie series. In these films, including ‘Solaris’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Silent Running’, Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’, Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Gravity’, the principal danger of space travel is solitude. It’s an extension of the famous tagline for ‘Alien’, another film about the horror of being isolated in a hostile environment: “In space no one can hear you scream”, especially when you’re on your own.