REVIEW: Moon [2009]

“Dad, there’s someone asking about Mom”

After an early career playing “thugs,” (see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Basquiat), Sam Rockwell began performing in supporting roles for many high profile indies in the early 2000s. It wasn’t until George Clooney, of all people, decided to step behind the camera for Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that he got his first real lead role, and did he ever take advantage. Well, he did as far as acting goes, maybe not job-wise because, besides a second lead in Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men, it was mostly indie-fare again. Only this time Rockwell was a focal point, allowed to stretch his legs and add something to each film. No work solidifies the fact that he will be in the pictures for many years to come then the new Moon, another debut from an unlikely source. This one is not an actor turned director, however, but instead music legend David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones. I think it is safe to say that this newcomer has quite the career ahead of him too.

Moon is ostensibly a one-man show featuring Rockwell as an astronaut sent to the moon on a three-year contract to maintain a mining station that harvests the sun’s fusion energy from moonrocks. We are thrown into the mix with only two weeks left in his tenure, the desire to return to his wife and daughter, whom he has never seen in real life yet, strong and his psyche all but ready to break from the lack of human interaction. Sam Bell has been keeping busy by utilizing a treadmill, watching old Nick at Nite type sitcoms, whittling away at a wooden model of his hometown with an X-acto knife, and conversing with the station’s artificial intelligence GERTY. The live feed to Earth has been disengaged for a while now, leaving this monotonous voice and bright yellow smiley face—complete with changing expressions—of Kevin Spacey his only friend. Sure he gets to record video packages for his wife and bosses at Lunar Industries, and they reply back to him, but the distance needed to travel is great and the time between too long.

Cabin fever has definitely set in as Sam begins to zone out and manifest a woman, first sitting down in his chair and then out on the moon’s surface while he is out for a routine check. Both instances cause him to forget what he was doing, causing great personal harm and injury. When the real trouble occurs, however, is the moment—as seen in the trailer—he brings back a body from the surface that appears, for all intents and purposes, to be him. This is the point where talking about Moon gets a little difficult so as to not ruin the mystery that should be unsolved when you sit down to watch the film. The trailer portrays a story that seems to beg the question of whether the second Sam is truly there or only in his imagination as he slowly goes insane. I won’t divulge the answer, but instead say that it gets solved fairly quickly. So, instead of the film becoming a psychological thriller with a big reveal at its conclusion, Duncan Jones’ story becomes complete science fiction, bringing in moral questions about technological advances we in 2009 are just beginning to wrestle with.

This aspect, while at first threatening to ruin my experience as I entered thinking the question of whether Sam number two was real or not would be the backbone to the tale, became so important to my enjoyment. Rather than a look inside the psyche of this man, isolated for so long, we are given a tense race against time as Sam must discover what is happening and think of a way to get out from under it all before the ELIZA rescue team arrives from Earth, an event that could have very dire consequences. I don’t want to ruin too much, but let me just say that the clock is counting down to his death, an ending that could be caused by many different factors, (failing health, execution by those coming, etc.), that also begs the question of whether he is in fact alive in the first place. I have to say that Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker put together a taut thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The pacing is deliberate and rapid all at the same time, the art direction pristine, and the camera tricks very impressive.

Sam Rockwell is a major part of this as it is definitely the best work of his career. Not only is he onscreen for the entire run time, about 80% of it is playing opposite a computer or himself. The pressures being put upon his shoulders, the fear of what may be happening, about his very own existence, weigh down his emotional strength and it shows. The outbursts, the sarcasm, the joking around to anger his doppelganger, and the heartbreaking realization of what is going on show through with perfection. This is his shining moment, proving his craft and ability to act above and beyond the “funny guy” he is often relegated to play. Especially when pitted against such a stark background of clinical white futuristic rooms or the vacuum of space, the angst, joy, disbelief, and fortitude of his humanity are all that we are able to see, his performance is paramount to the film’s success.

I know that, as far as storyline goes, this review remains somewhat vague besides expressing the visceral tension and underlying mystery waiting to be solved, but I believe that is for your own viewing pleasure. While the trailer is not necessarily misleading, it posits a question that is answered early on as being the main crux of the entire film. That possibility of more than one Sam Bell or of a man who’s hold of reality has been broken may be what you went into the film expecting to see. Well you will just see it sooner than expected and as a lead into the real story of survival, identity, and the idea of home. In that respect, having the trailer’s mystery solved only means more time for unexpected storylines; it may have gotten you into the seats, but it is only the beginning of what this science fiction classic-in-waiting has to offer.

Moon 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★

[1] Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell. Photo taken by Mark Tille, © Lunar Industries Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
[2] Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell. Photo taken by Mark Tille, © Lunar Industries Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics


2 Thoughts to “REVIEW: Moon [2009]”

  1. […] Moon, review: Sam Rockwell and director Duncan Jones are Moon. Science fiction deserves to be this stark and […]

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