In Theaters: Moon
Moon emerged in January as one of Sundance's more provocative curios: a one-man show tens of thousands of miles from Earth, an existential thriller about a single astronaut both for and against himself. Critics fussed over its influences, then complained about the impossibility of writing about a film whose Big Twist arrives in its first 25 minutes. Sony Classics nabbed it for distribution despite no real track record with sci-fi, but with designs on selling the feature directorial debut of David Bowie's son Duncan Jones. All of which are fine, but overlook the most essential of the many true things about Moon: It's excellent.
It's no doubt a tough experience to preserve without giving away a fairly early revelation (do first act plot points count as spoilers?), so be warned, I suppose: Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of his three-year term harvesting solar energy from the lunar surface. Bedraggled and burned out, Sam passes his time building models, catching up with video memos from his Earth-bound wife and daughter, and chattering with Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), the supercomputer that runs the operation at his base.
The nature and scope of that operation reveals itself after Sam ventures on an ill-advised repair mission, where he finds a wrecked trawler whose driver looks a lot like himself. Hauling him back for observation, the, um, original Sam has more than a few questions for Gerty -- like who the original Sam even is in the first place. The viewer lingers in the same disoriented space as the protagonist until Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker uncork some serious multi-Sam razzle-dazzle, confirming this is no hallucination but rather a complex means to typically nefarious corporate ends.
But Moon is no message movie. Sam is not clawing out of Blade Runner's dystopia or the metaphysical vortex of Dead Ringers, and unlike the film's intellectual godparent Alien, someone can hear him scream in space (even if it's his clone). Moreover, the 40 years since 2001: A Space Odyssey have evidently done a lot for computers' souls, imbuing Gerty with a morality that erases the threat of an older model better known as HAL 9000. It can't hurt that the latter's piercing red cyclops gives way to a Spacey-enabled batch of emoticons, which in the hands of so many young directors would likely lapse into cynicism. Jones is hardly an ideologue, however, borrowing more liberally from the set designs of Moon's predecessors than from any of their bulky thematic infrastructure.
And really, when employing an actor of Rockwell's class, the ideas crest organically. The staggering technical work of acting opposite oneself for nearly 90 minutes is one thing. Managing the compounded range of loneliness, anger, self-preservation and fear -- often in the same scene -- is another entirely. Sam's struggles have less to do with his moon encampment than the costs of work itself; he could just as easily be the last man on a shuttered GM assembly line, inseparable from his identity on the job, but expendable all the same. And, as with Sam, home (whatever that is) isn't even there anymore.
Or maybe it is. It's Moon's ultimate question, so optimistic and literally open-ended that it almost begs for sequelization. We probably won't get it, and maybe we shouldn't. There's enough to keep us busy here for years, if only we treated it like the singular mindfuck it is rather than some prodigy squandering its inheritance. Sure, Jones walks into some of those presumptions, but that's the price of doing business in sci-fi (especially in this family): Let the people talk. It may take years, but in the end, the work always speaks for itself. RATING: 9