Tue
Jun 16 2009 2:51pm
Play it Again, Sam: Moon

Ostensibly, Moon is a movie about a man named Sam, the sole employee of a lunar mining outpost, drudging his way through the last two weeks of his three-year contract, and the way things begin to go wrong for him as his termination date approaches.

Which is true, but that’s like saying 2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie about a cranky computer.

The movie slyly opens with a standard slice-of-life of Sam’s automated, lonely existence, as a sense of disaster begins to seep into the cracks like grime into his exposure suit. The cheerful computer, GERTY (complete with emoticon interface), grows sinister; Sam begins to see flashes of other people on the station; there are no outside communications. The stage is set for the slow burn of hallucinatory nothings, the at-last reveal that Sam is not alone, his showdown with the ruthless computer mind—you know where this is going.

Except it doesn’t.

While taking a rover trip out to retrieve a case of Helium-3 (the sustainably energy source Lunar Industries is harvesting), Sam gets into an accident. Later, Sam wakes up in the infirmary, unable to remember what’s happened. When Sam makes an unauthorized trip out to the wrecked rover, he figures out why he doesn’t remember his accident—the Sam Bell who crashed is still in the wreckage.

In constructing the script, Duncan Jones masterfully avoids the usual “He’s right behind you!” sci-fi scare tactics. Nothing jumps out from around a corner—nothing has to, when the corporation’s insidious tactics are clear to us from the start (though not, at first, to the Sams). The two Sams don’t waste any time denying the other’s existence; they circle each other for a little while before settling into an uneasy truce and fighting over ping-pong. (“Old” Sam is better, though his palpable desperation for company keeps him from gloating too much.)

Sam Rockwell delivers two seamless and unique performances, constructing “old” Sam as the easygoing blue-collar drone baffled by what’s happened, and “new” Sam as the sharper, more capable astronaut determined to get out of their hopeless situation. Without any debate about whether they’re less human because they’re clones, they present two people who just happen to be clones of one another, and let the audience realize how different they are when the men’s timeline shrinks and they start making decisions about who stays, and who makes a run for it.

Even in the details—the music on Sam’s alarm clock; GERTY’s reactions that hint that Sam’s is not the only awakening; the music cues that turn potentially horrific moments into tragic ones—the movie works deftly, weaving three fully-realized characters into a situation that feels just familiar enough without resorting to stock, and delivering a quiet, mature story whose implications linger after the credits have rolled.

Moon is cerebral science fiction at its best; see it if you can.

8 comments
Torie Atkinson
1. Torie
Spoilers!

__

I really loved the way that the film did NOT fall into the sandtraps of cliche. The computer wasn't evil. That would've been so easy and so cheap. And there's no morality debate. There's no arguing about whether it's right or wrong--just that it is, and this is the situation, and you want to help Sam. There are no extraneous subplots, no superfluous characters. He's not special. And they're each different in their own way, but retain a fundamental goodness and spirit in each incarnation that makes them clearly cut from the same cloth.

It reminded me a lot of Dark City that way. You can imagine a history of memories and that does change the way that you behave, but ultimately there's a fundamental you-ness that no one can take away. I also liked the exchange at the end between Sam and GERTY when GERTY notes that they will both continue as usual, in accordance with their programming. Our memories and our experiences are our programming. What sets Sam apart from GERTY is that Sam is different having experienced them, where GERTY is not. That's why he's human.

A beautiful, thoughtful film.
Torie Atkinson
2. Torie
More gushing: I also loved the way that it handled reveals. There was no SURPRISE!! b.s. reveal that suddenly changed everything you had seen before, and no withholding of the reveal for false tension. Instead, it all comes together in a believable and satisfying way. You start with the middle of the tapestry and work your way around the edges, but it never tries to flip the damn thing over and tell you that it's actually been a unicorn all this time.
Dayle McClintock
3. trinityvixen
Sam Rockwell was amazing. I like that you can read both Sams as totally different people but still understand how they both come from the same starting point. I love that they are annoyed by each other but not crushingly paranoid. I like how they like each other, even--so few lead characters are good enough people to actually get along with themselves. (See: all the comic-book action heroes since this latest cycle began 10 years ago.)

I love, too, how the new Sam was totally ready to let the old Sam go home over him even though old!Sam wasn't going to make it and they both knew that. There was a respect for what old!Sam had been through, and how crushing it was to learn about his situation so close to the end (when he'd have no time to do much of anything about it). New!Sam was just like, "You've earned it, so you're going home." I loved that sort of selflessness about Sam--both of them.

And GERTY! I'm such a fan of computers being the unrealized good guys. I like that GERTY doesn't realize that all the Sams he's been friends with aren't like him--they don't just run according to programming and break down, they think they're autonomous and die thinking that. I felt so bad for GERTY. He was at least as self-sacrificing as Sam, bless.
Eugene Myers
4. ecmyers
I thought it was touching when old Sam walks into the infirmary and sees new new Sam on the bed, just before he wakes up. He thinks this is the new Sam he's been hanging out with and seems genuinely concerned for his friend: "Hey, what are you doing here? Are you all right?"

The more I think about this film, the more I like it.
Matt Kressel
5. Matt Kressel
When I saw the film, director Duncan Jones stayed behind after to answer some questions. He said that he didn't see GUERTY as having any kind of awakening of compassion which leads him to help Sam. He was simply following his programming from beginning to end, which was to protect Sam both physically and mentally at all costs.
Matt Kressel
6. Foxessa
Ziggy's kid does good!
Dayle McClintock
7. trinityvixen
Rachel Maddow had a segment on her show last night (6/18/09) about a NASA probe on a mission to the moon to scout for possible colony sites. Suuuuuuuuuuure it was. We know what this is really all about...
Matt Kressel
8. jeir
The best thing about it and all good science fiction were the politics. Of course it takes sides whoever said it was nothing to do with morality.

Corporations are evil and human beings are expendable; and superfluous. As we are all in this capitalist world.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment