Film Review: Moon

A sad but clever science-fiction exercise about a man working alone on the Moon, with nothing but a talking computer and tape-recorded calls back to Earth to keep him sane.

Duncan Jones, a commercials director, former camera operator for Tony Scott, and the son of David Bowie, makes a sure-footed entry into the feature directing ranks with Moon, an impressive science-fiction allegory whose moral implications are as troubling as they are prescient.

Working literally on the dark side of the Moon in the near-future, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is technically an astronaut but is really like an outer-space oil-rigger for Halliburton. An employee of Lunar Industries, the world's top supplier of clean energy (as the relentlessly cheery ad which opens the film proclaims), Sam minds the dingy Sarang mining station, whose sole purpose is the mining of Helium-3 for use back on Earth. His only companions are the station's computer, Gerty (voiced with kindly world-weariness by Kevin Spacey) and a number of plants whom he's given names to.

When Nathan Parker's script introduces us to Sam, he's nearing the end of his three-year contract, and seems to be quite the worse for wear. Long-haired and distracted, he drags about the station, performing his duties with minimum enthusiasm and looking like some barely animated stuffed animal whose seams are coming undone from overuse. The station's long-range communications are damaged, leaving Sam able to speak only with his superiors and family (a sparkling wife and adorable baby girl) by recorded message. After Sam nearly dies in a clumsy accident, he awakens faced with a man who appears to be a younger and more together version of himself. Questions of his sanity and, ultimately, humanity spring up like so many weeds.

Clint Mansell's somber, jarring score supports the images of a man going through the motions with decreasing interest, whose despair and solitude unmoor him. Jones' stated admiration for an earlier era's dystopian works like the underrated Outland are clearly on view here in Moon's workaday, prosaic vision of what is to come. Sarang's look is more prefab industrial than iPod designer gleam; it's like the inside of a sterile Kubrick space pod after years without cleaning. Dirt has accumulated like loneliness and the post-it notes Sam leaves for himself everywhere (including, in a nice touch, one stuck to the back of Gerty's module that reads "Kick Me"). As in that 1981 Peter Hyams thriller, the backdrop here—which appears to be something close to lunar strip-mining—couldn't be less romantic.

Moon suffers through some saggy patches after it starts to wrestle with the conundrum raised when Sam meets his double. It's certainly not the fault of the film's star, who demonstrates that if you're going to be stuck with a possibly insane man for the better part of an hour and a half, it might as well be one played by Rockwell (who shows here, as in last year's Choke, what a joke it is that he's never been considered leading-man material). There may simply have been too little in Parker's script to play with beyond a couple of plot twists. But Jones' ability to craft a thoughtful and emotive piece of science fiction out of little more than a clever concept, a single set, and some not-too-convincing special effects is nothing to be ignored. This may not be Tarkovsky, but it's about as close as one can realistically hope for.