April 8, 2011


Moon: Smart, old-school sci-fi in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey featuring a terrific turn by Sam Rockwell and solid direction from rookie Duncan Jones. (And yes, he's David Bowie's son.) (Steven D. Greydanus, 6/19/2009, Christianity Today)

An early title tells us that the Sarang base has a crew of one—but Sam isn't entirely alone. For one thing, there's Gerty, who glides about in a ceiling-mounted track system and speaks in the detached cadences of Kevin Spacey, like a mash-up of the HAL-9000 from 2001 and OTTO from WALL-E. Sam also lives with his memories, if that's what they are, of his wife Tess, whose only contact with Sam is via recorded messages from Earth (live communication is down due to satellite malfunction).

Then, on a routine outing in the rover, Sam sees someone or something that can't be there. There is an accident that leaves a roaming mining unit damaged, and Sam is injured. Later, recuperating in the infirmary, Sam learns from Gerty that he's confined to base while a repair crew from Earth makes the three-day trip to get the damaged mining unit back up and running.

But then Sam overhears something that wasn't meant for his ears, and is suddenly dissatisfied with staying inside the lines. He decides to check out the damaged mining unit with or without Gerty's permission, leading to an exchange that deliberately evokes the tacit antagonism of Dave Bowman's relationship with HAL in 2001, though Moon also subverts the genre tropes established by the Kubrick classic.

What Sam discovers when he returns to the scene of the accident, and what he experiences afterwards, is described in many reviews—which is a shame, since Moon is not a mystery or "twist" thriller in which everything turns on a mind-bending explanation. Sam's disorienting experiences are best experienced as he does, with as little context as possible.

Suffice to say, Sam's predicament touches on issues from the deconstruction of human nature and the commodification of human life to existential loneliness, alienation and the dehumanizing effects of corporate ruthlessness. Jones confidently covers this material with efficiency and restraint, avoiding both didacticism and unnecessary pyrotechnics.

At the same time, the filmmakers create a world of admirable persuasiveness and visual appeal, from the industrial starkness of the base, to the lunar grit of the moonscape and the rover, to the clunky boxiness of Gerty, who looks like some sort of medical scanning unit (with the odd yellow Post-it note for an added touch of lived-in realness).

It's not a perfect film, but Moon earns enough goodwill to warrant overlooking small flaws for all it does right—and this is as good a place as any for the obligatory acknowledgement that the first-time filmmaker is the son of David Bowie.

Traditional dramatic theory outlines basic modes of conflict: character vs. character, character vs. nature, character vs. society, character vs. self. Moon plays ambiguously with multiple modes of conflict—including a sci-fi variant, character vs. machine—in the process questioning, though not dismissing, the relevance of the distinctions.

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Posted by at April 8, 2011 5:27 PM

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