Now Playing:Rockwell Encounters The Darkside of ‘Moon’

23 Jul

moonmovie

Moon (R) 97 min.

For here I am sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet earth is blue
And theres nothing I can do

Though Im past one hundred thousand miles
Im feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go
Tell my wife I love her very much she knows

Space Oddity, David Bowie

cinemagrade AThose haunting lyrics to Bowie’s song about a lonesome and isolated astronaut seem to echo in every silent space of Duncan Jones’  new hard-science fiction Moon.  And there is a certain sense of symmetry there when you consider that Jones is Bowie’s son and this movie his first directorial debut. What a debut it is too! Starting small and quiet and then gaining momentum slowly and purposefully, Moon tells the story of astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a company man fulfilling the last bit of his three year contract on the lunar surface where he is the only human member of a mining operation. What is it exactly Sam is mining ? Helium-3, a clean fuel source that is abundant on the moon but provides the key for Earth’s energy crisis. Employed by Lunar Industries, Sam’s primary job is to oversee the automated robotic process. As a result, that means Sam’s only crew member is the base’s A.I. system, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacy as a cross between Hal 9000 and Robby the Robot). 

The film picks up with the final two weeks of Sam’s mission. Sam who has been operating without a direct communication link is craving human interaction and longs to see his wife Tess and their new-born daughter Eve. Then, there is an accident at the mining site and Sam wakes up in the medical lab under GERTY’s supervision. Something is wrong. He believes there is a problem back at the Harvesters, but new word from the company advises that he stay aboard the ship for the remainder of his service. Eventually, Sam makes his way back to the accident site and things get really weird.

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 There isn’t much more I can say about Moon’s narrative without giving away a few of its myriad suprises. Instead, lets focus on something else; the performance of Sam Rockwell, which is no less than superb and more than deserving of at least an Oscar Nom come next January. Sam Bell has been by himself a very long time and the bright, austere, somewhat shabby surroundings of the moon base are starting to take their toll on his emotional stability. He longs to see his wife but has to settle for video recordings sent to him. He can’t talk to his daughter, instead reaching out to caress the monitor where her  image resides. He goes for days without shaving or bathing, lost in a stupor of apathy, hallucinating to better times. GERTY is as close to a friend and  a confidant as he can get and he wonders why the live link has never been repaired.

For these early passages Rockwell conveys what it might be like for a man to be separated for years from the things he knows and is familiar with. Bell doesn’t even have the comfort of the planet on which he was born. When Rockwell discovers the wrecked harvester and removes the body he finds inside, the nature of the film changes.  Very soon, Sam Bell finds his sanity and the very nature of his existence questioned, re-defined and finally threatened.

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Facets of Bell rise to the surface and conflict with one another, and Rockwell meets the challenge of playing not only off Spacey’s sometimes menacing, sometimes friendly computer but off of himself in scenes whose power are difficult to describe without seeing them. Encased within this film and this performance is one of the most compelling explorations of human identity in recent science fiction. Where the plot goes, Rockwell follows, seeking answers and with each new answer, facing a new dilemma that challenges everything he assumes he knew about himself, the corporation he works for, even the family whom he longs to be reunited with. In one touching sequence he sits inside the moon rover and weeps in solitude, longing to return home. Rockwell  is a terrific actor but he has never been called on to embody emotional despair this deep. It’s heartbreaking and next to it Spacey’s ambiguous robotic companion becomes a wonderful foil. When GERTY interprets his programming in ways that allow him to act selflessly for Sam and against his own higher directives, we are witnessing the strongest notes of human compassion in the movie.

Hard science fiction is a difficult thing to pull off. It requires attention to detail and scientific logic, but more than that it requires an able hand in identifying human reaction to the world that surrounds us. In MoonJones comes up with a story concerned about the future of mankind and how we will stand as individuals in the face of technology that would render us as just another piece of merchandise or material.  It asks big questions about the memories, identity and emotional connections that we make in our lives. In some part it is considering the vastness beyond this sphere and if loneliness is a cosmic condition. However, it does all of this, not with the visually mysterious style of 2001 or the near impenetrable philosophies of Solaris, but with a straight-forward story about a man meeting himself on the surface of Earth’s moon.

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Amazing and affecting cinematography make Moon look like a dream crossed with a beamed-down transmission and it feels both technically charged and subliminally anxious.  Clint Mansel delivers a score that fits the film’s hallucinatory vibe perfectly. The sets are simple and clean and then later the lower bowels of the space station contain dark secrets wound into the labyrinthine complex. GERTY is basically a large mechanical arm hanging from the ceiling, his one identifier a view-screen with an emoticon on it that changes from smiling, frowning and a confused in between. Rockwell sports a beard in some scenes, is bleeding out like a stuck-pig in others, and towards the finale looks as fit as ever.  The movie’s secrets rest in two transmission towers that Sam spies near the Harvester, and his salvation may lie in the team arriving in a few days. It all depends if he can parse the reality of his situation.

What really amazes me about Moon is how original and inspiring it ends up being. This is a film that can stand in the gap with the science fiction greats of its time and hold its head proudly. It moves beyond the concerns of the genre to tell a story that meets us as we are, as human beings, and in the midst of this it sets its story in the last great unconquered dimension of human ambition: space.

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3 Responses to “Now Playing:Rockwell Encounters The Darkside of ‘Moon’”

  1. goregirl July 24, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    A friend of mine seen this at the CineVegas Film Festival and was blown away. I really want to make an effort to get out and see this one on the big screen.

  2. hagiblog July 24, 2009 at 2:32 pm #

    I’m only just hearing about this now but I’m instantly intrigued by the sounds of it. I must figure out where to see this one!

  3. R November 1, 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    This movie rocks

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