When a space-set movie takes the route of human alienation (no pun intended) as opposed to man versus unknown monster, the success of it most often falls on the performance of the actors. In the case of the fascinatingly peculiar Moon, we basically only have one human, Sam Rockwell, to carry us through the movie. Fortunately Rockwell is in top form, and he carries the weight of the ambitious and sometimes lacking story on his very capable shoulders.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut who is at the end of his three-year stint on the far side of Moon helping, alongside his computer Gerty, to supply the population back on Earth with an energy source which helps to solve the planet's power problems. Two weeks before the end of his contract, Sam discovers a shocking truth about his assignment.
Moon explores a number of different philosophical questions, notions, theories, and possibilities, such as what happens when a man is alone for such a long time, what really matters in life, and what's the meaning of existence? Moon certainly isn't the first film to delve into these questions, certainly not within the framework of being alone in space with just your thoughts and a supercomputer. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the immediate comparison, with the legendary HAL 9000 being evoked here by the cut-from-the-same-metal computer called Gerty, voiced in deadpan fashion by Kevin Spacey. Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris and even Alien – in its quieter, less action-oriented scenes – are also echoed here.
But while almost paying homage to past projects exploring the same kinds of issues and set within the same kind of situation, Moon is very much its own movie. It's an unpredictable movie, starting out going in one direction and suddenly taking an unexpected turn to another. Its ideas are incredibly ambitious, something which ultimately holds it back from joining the list of the all-time great movies of this type. But luckily Rockwell is a brilliant, not to mention much underrated, actor and he essentially carries the movie. He's always been an interesting actor to watch, and this one-man show gives him the opportunity to show just how good he is. Given the nature of the story (which I won't give away for spoiler purposes), Rockwell gets to play this character in all sorts of states, from desperate to courageous, all within the film's effectively short 97-minute runtime, and put to Clint Mansell's subtle, infectious musical score.
As I said, the movie is more about ideas than anything else and this is where Moon falters. It is an interesting piece of work to ponder over, to discuss just how many layers it may have to peel away, but when it comes down to the ideas functioning within the film's frame, they're not as fleshed out as they should be. Some would argue the ambiguity is part of its charm, and I guess it is. But for it to be a 100% satisfying movie, as opposed to a project filled with ambitious ideas, the ideas needed to be explained to a higher level than debut writer Nathan Parker and director Duncan Jones have deemed fit.
In an age where spectacle is all the rage for this type of movie (J.J. Abrams explosive Star Trek reboot to name just one), Moon scales it all down to a confined setting and a one-man cast. This could aptly be described as an interpersonal drama that just happens to be set in space, an exploration of the human psyche and what happens to the mind when alone for a long time. When it comes down to it, occasional video messages from loved ones back home isn't enough. Through the performance of Rockwell, we get to witness just what loneliness can do.
The smallness of the movie is simultaneously a strength and a weakness, because as much as it allows for a fascinating personal drama, it also makes it feel confined as a whole. Its ambition is also a blessing and curse; this small of a movie aiming so high is extremely admirable, but also not entirely satisfying when concepts are not fleshed out as much as needed. Moon is a strange, inventive, and intriguing directorial début, one that favours the question rather than the answer. To quote a certain iron-clad superhero, is it too much to ask for both?