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Movie Review: Moon

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Both directed by and based on a story from David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones, Moon is a wonderful accomplishment for a first time feature director. It is a mature and assured tale that offers a lot of content for discussion packed into a brief but leisurely paced run time. It is a film that finds itself at the crossroads of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, and Event Horizon. However, it is not merely a greatest hits mash-up of what we already know, it is a bold and original vision that delivers a mesmerizing experience at the cinema. It is a great example of what intelligent hard science fiction can be; a great defense for a genre that has been overrun by effects, fantasy, and a general lack of logic (that's not always a bad thing but has appeared a little too often).

Going into Moon, I was unsure of what to expect. Considering the very limited release, I had seen the trailer only once, I still knew I wanted to see it, but had no idea what it was really going to be about.

The movie definitely proved interesting. It is the sort of film that sneaks up on you, draws you in, makes you interested, and then is over. It is not an action film, it is not a fast-paced film, it is one that allows the story to slowly unfold over the course of its run time, seeping into your brain, all the while making you curious as to where it is going or what the meaning of it all is.

In the near future, possibly the same world that 2001 is set in, a new fuel for energy is discovered on the moon. It is called Helium3 and is used to fuel clean nuclear fusion. A mining facility has been set up on the dark side of the moon and is almost completely automated. The station is manned by a crew of one, and that person signs on for a three year stint to ensure everything runs smoothly and tend to maintenance and repairs, but is otherwise is left to entertain himself in the well-stocked base.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his contract, and for him the end couldn't come soon enough. The man is on the verge of breaking down. Three years in isolation — save for the HAL-like presence of the base computer GERTY (voice of Kevin Spacey) — can be trying on a person's mind. Sam is beginning to see things as he goes about his day. Is he losing his mind? No, he is just tired of being so utterly alone, his only connection with Earth being recorded messages from his wife and his superiors — sounds like enough to drive anyone batty.

Examining the effects of isolation, of being surrounded by technology with no other meaningful human contact over an extended period of time is an interesting idea. Three years is a long time and Sam Rockwell does a fine job of showing how it can wear a mind down.  Sam winds up seeing things and talking to himself, however, this is only part of the story, and just a small part at that.

One day, Sam heads out in a rover to investigate a potential problem with one of the automated mining vehicles. En route, Sam gets distracted which results in a bad accident. Sam then wakes up in sick bay on the base, wondering what happened. This is where things begin to get strange. As you know is you saw the trailer, another Sam shows up on the base. Is it a copy? A figment of his fractured imagination? Something else altogether?

This is the sort of movie where the wrong detail given in the right place by a reviewer can ruin it for the potential audience. So, with that said, I am going to decline to give any more hard details. This is the kind of film that is best to see clean, avoid whatever advance details you can, and allow the film to work its magic.

Duncan Jones does a wonderful job of keeping the story interesting. He plants a number of seeds throughout that will make you wonder if what you thought you knew is accurate or not. It is an intelligent film that requires audience participation. If you just let the story unfold and wash over you as a passive observer, you may like it, but you will never be sure of what you know. You need to be an active participant, picking up on the clues dropped throughout the piece to point you towards the truth. I think. Trying to figure out the truth here is like trying to hit a moving target that you can't see.

Much of the credit needs to be given to Sam Rockwell. He gives a powerful, multifaceted performance that will affect you. He perfectly embodies the fractured persona of Sam Bell. Quite simply, he carries the emotional weight of the movie and is a quietly charismatic and easy going presence on the screen.  He delivers a performance you will not be able to look away from.

Bottomline. Powerful movie, one that everyone should see, although I suspect many will not be able to become absorbed by it. It is a quiet, slow moving film that does not go in the direction that I expected. It is a case of a story being told the way it wants to be told rather than being force in one direction by expectations.

Highly recommended.

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  • To a person who doesn’t know 2001 Space Odyssey or hasn’t read Stanislaw Lem or Phillip Dick, this all may sound pretty innovative and quite deep. One might even start asking herself question about identity and those sort of things. To me however, it was the same old stuff presented again and again, with no added value whatsoever.

    My review here: “Moon”: a Big Disappointment