Article first published as Movie Review: Moon – An Existential Sci-fi Thriller on Blogcritics.
Moon is a stark, somber tale, simultaneously simple and complex. The film is simple in that the characters can be counted on one hand. The film is complex in that it serves as a study of a human in isolation, and the ensuing psychological distress and loss of self the human experiences. The film, while over an hour and a half long, feels like a sci-fi short story (in a good way): the setting is the near future, a scenario is presented, a single character introduced. Rather than following a cast of characters on a lengthy quest or journey, we are invited to slip into a single character’s skin and ponder the world he lives in. The result is an open-ended, introspective tale that unsettles and fascinates its audience.
The film stars Sam Rockwell and nearly no one else. Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the sole human tenant of a lunar base on the far side of the Moon. Sam has only GERTY for company, a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey in delightfully dry monotone. Sam’s job is to oversee mining operations at the lunar base for a three-year stint. The company he works for is extracting helium-3, which is sent to Earth and used to create clean, abundant fusion energy. After Sam’s three-year shift is up, he can finally return home to his waiting wife and young daughter. However, Sam is a few weeks shy of his return date when his health takes a sudden turn for the worse. He begins to hallucinate. He sees a teenage girl and, more disturbingly, himself. As Sam’s condition worsens, he (with the help of another Sam) begins to unravel the alarming secret behind the company that sent him into isolation in the first place.
Through elegant shots and quiet moments, director Duncan Jones (in his debut into feature films) shows his talent for deft storytelling and skillful artistry. Moon is a genuinely original, chilling sci-fi yarn. With a budget of only $5 million, Jones creates an eerily probable reality in which we solve the energy crisis, but at a steep price.
The film addresses far-reaching moral questions. As technology marches tirelessly forward, what do we sacrifice along the way? What constitutes an individual, what makes him real, and what gives him value? Moon is simultaneously existential and gripping. We can all too easily imagine ourselves in everyman Sam Bell’s shoes, and we shudder to think of those with power who would, for the sake of technological innovation and the benefit of many, sacrifice the happiness of the individual. In the end, Moon is a portrait of human emotion, set in the heedless cavern of space, poignant and thoughtful, disturbing and heartbreaking.