Film Review: Moon (Spoilers)

You expect certain conventions with sci-fi and ‘Moon’ breaks most of them. That doesn’t immediately make it a groundbreaking film, but it’s certainly not run of the mill either – it’s a morality play where you least expect it, and it leaves you uncomfortable and questioning. It’s no small achievement for first-feature director and co-writer Duncan Jones, aided by the always brilliant lead actor Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, voicing his robot assistant GERTY. We’re deeper into the 21st century and humanity has returned to the moon to mine Helium-3 to solve its energy crises. All is peaceful on earth; not so though the moon. Astronaut/engineer Sam Bell leads a lonely and isolated existence manning humanity’s mining operation, waiting to be collected to return to his wife and daughter, but suffering from inexplicable blackouts and memory lapses. When he wakes up after an accident with one of the Helium-3 harvesters he returns from the scene of the accident to find…himself…

Sure there are overtones of 2001, of Alien and many other standard, dark sci-fi classics. The look is retro but classic (astonishingly the film’s budget was only $5 million), but the easy comparisons stop there. ‘Moon’ has more in common with ‘Blade Runner”s murky questioning about identity in a postmodern, excessively technological future. And as with Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, whilst there appears to be a grand conspiracy which Rockwell is caught up in, there ultimately isn’t – can there be a conspiracy against clones? The recovered Sam is aghast to find that it wasn’t his clone involved in the accident – he too is a clone. In fact there are an infinite number of Sams ready to mine the moon, and his real family hasn’t just moved on – the real Sam is with them too. What are two desperate clones to do, with the mining company fast approaching the moon to incinerate them, the fate of all their forebears?

Jones takes perhaps too long to get there (yet the film is only 90 mins – odd), but he offers up some very difficult moral questions: who will do the long-term work when we return to space? What should the rights of clones be? If Sam’s clones have the same memories, personality and humanity as the real Sam, can it possibly be anything other than monstrous to incinerate them at the end of their working life? Jones and co-write Nathan Parker never shove the issues in your face, but leave you wondering, showing everything from the clones’ fractured and limited point of view. In this they’re helped enormously by a towering performance by the ever dependable Sam Rockwell, whose various interpretations of Sam Bell are both creepy and revealing. And Spacey’s turn voicing GERTY provides an excellent foil – is GERTY another HAL, and if so what is he prepared to do to keep the mining operation steady? Curious ultimately to see more humanity coming from GERTY than from his human creators.

So it feels like it’s too long (but isn’t) and the pacing occasionally is off, but this is a strong film with a strong heart. That it leaves you creeped out I suspect comes from a lingering sense of Sams’ isolation on the moon, but it’s also from a nagging certainty that given the choice, if the technology were available, we’d play things out just as they appear in the film. Worth thinking about, and certainly worth watching. 8/10

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3 responses to “Film Review: Moon (Spoilers)

  1. I broadly agree with you but disagree with your statements about the film taking a long time getting to where it’s going. I thought the pacing was masterly and threw enough random clues and red herrings into the pot for the first hour to keep me really intrigued just where it was going.

    I went in deliberately knowing next to nothing about the film’s content (the fact it featured Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey’s voice was all the recommendation I needed, and pretty much all I knew about it going in!) and now I understand why the couple of reviews I had read where sketchy on detail: the word “clone” is already giving too much away and detracts from the enjoyment of the first half of the movie. It’s deliberately discombobulating and I can’t see that unease remaining intact if one knows where it’s all headed.

    I intend to go see it again to find out!

    Thanks for the interesting review and for telling me it was worth seeing. 😉

    (Oh, while I’m here, having heard your Pelham 123 Boo Review I shall take your advice again and give it a miss…)

  2. “What should the rights of clones be?” is an interesting question, but I don’t think it’s one the movie should have asked in the way it did. I liked Moon, but I keep thinking about how much more involving it would have been if the first Sam had actually been the ORIGINAL Sam. It wouldn’t have severed the empathy the way trying to relate to a cloned Sam does.

  3. Joel: The fact that you would think a clone of a human being—a clone which is every bit as human as the “original”—deserves less empathy than the “original” is precisely one of the problems raised by the movie. Brilliant commentary on the unethical concept of human cloning, and of using human life to serve selfish ends. Also relevant to the use of embryonic stem cell research.

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