July 2, 2009


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Moon (R)
A corporate astronaut helping to mine an energy source on the moon encounters weirdness in space in Moon, a cool, thinky little sci-fi movie.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of a three-year contract of solitary work on the moon. He spends his days working out on a treadmill, eating packaged food and talking to Gerty (voice of Kevin Spacey), the robot with emoticon facial expressions displayed on a computer screen and a friendly voice who helps keep the various parts of the station and its outlying machinery working. He’s going a bit stir crazy — an equipment malfunction is preventing the live feed to Earth from working, so all communication is non-interactive messages, like the video messages Sam gets from his wife and small daughter back home. He is, a little bit, seeing things — a dark-haired young woman appears to him a few times, first causing him to scald his hand on water he’s pouring and the second time causing him to crash a vehicle as he drives across the surface to fix a piece of mining equipment.

This crash causes him to black out. Later, we see Sam awake on a bed in the station’s sick bay. Gerty is tending to him. He’s not sure what has happened, but he sees that a piece of machinery isn’t working, so he gets in another rover and heads out, eventually finding a crash site with a rover and a man inside. He brings the man in to the sick bay and the man wakes up and looks at Sam and asks Gerty who that is and Gerty tells the man on the bed to relax, Sam.

Is the first Sam a hallucination of the second Sam? Is one of the Sams merely a ghost? Is this all an extreme manifestation of Sam’s three years without human contact?

Moon has an answer for these things and while not terribly unusual by science fiction standards it’s a good one. Moon is good with ideas. It is less exciting in execution — a man left alone with himself and his thoughts it perhaps something that works better in a novel than on the screen, where we’re left with almost all Sam Rockwell all the time. Sam Rockwell, a good regular-joe type actor, carries so many scenes with only himself. He does not light up the screen but he doesn’t get lost in his surroundings either. The station and the moon’s surface are just spartan enough that his low-key approach to the material can still hold your attention.

What I do like about how this movie approaches its eerie concept is the general spookiness of space. So often in science fiction we go from an empty space to a well-populated one — in the various Star Trek iterations you basically have an office building full of people warp-five-ing through space. In Moon, as in the little-seen Sunshine from a few summers ago, you have a lonely space where technology has put a few people (or in this case one person) in so much nothing — a scary amount of nothing. Until we settle on the answer of how this nothing may have pushed Sam over the edge, Moon makes good use of the creepy unknown that can be such a fun and engrossing part of space stories. B-

Rated R for language. Directed by Duncan Jones and written by Jones and Nathan Parker, Moon is an hour and 37 minutes long and is distributed in limited release by Sony Pictures Classics.