Dueling Film Reviews: JDub on "Moon"

Posted 11/06/2009 by JDub in Labels: , , , ,

Having premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, director Duncan Jones' "Moon" is an interesting type of SciFi/Thriller. The exotic moonscape setting and futuristic technology at the base play second fiddle to the intense introspective drama of the lead character, Sam Bell as played by Sam Rockwell of "Frost/Nixon" and "Choke."

As the only human staff present on a moon base which harvests 75% of the world's clean energy, Sam Bell is dependent upon Gertie, his robot companion, to fulfill most of his duties and for a source of companionship. Using Kevin Spacey as the voice of Gertie clearly invokes "2001, A Space Odyssey's" HAL, which allows for quite a deft misdirection. I felt myself waiting for this creepy-voiced robot named Gertie to turn out to be evil and ruin things for Sam. But in a twist I certainly wasn't expecting, Gertie became a willing and faithful accomplice in Sam's effort to escape the base.

There is much to say about the film's portrayal of the personal isolation Sam feels due to being alone on the moon. It's more than just the distance, time, or solitude: in fact, the technology which surrounds Sam and makes his life on the moon possible is, I would argue, the main source of his isolation--especially his isolation from himself.

As Sam lives out his three year contract at the lunar base, he communicates with Earth regularly. But because of technical difficulties with the satellite in lunar orbit, he is forced to record his messages before sending, and all replies from Earth must be recorded as well. This lack of live, real-time communication provides one layer of isolation, but Sam seems to find just enough human interaction in the recorded messages from his wife to get by.

It is not until the accident about two weeks before his scheduled return to Earth that Sam recognizes the full extent of his solitude. Having been saved from exposure to the vacuum of space by his own clone, Sam turns to Gertie (a piece of technology) asking for answers, but is instead met with deflection and refusal. At first, his own clone won't even talk to him either.

In desperation, he takes a lunar rover outside of the base's radius of interference and, turning to another piece of technology, tries to contact his wife and young daughter. Instead of reaching his wife, Sam reaches his daughter, who is now 15 years old and who also explains that her mother has since passed. Rather than lessening his apparent isolation, the phone call only serves to make clear to Sam just how isolated he's been all along.

There are clear parallels between this technological isolation and the pitfalls of using a machine as an intermediary for human emotional connection.

With "Moon," the technology is used deliberately to keep Sam in isolation, and to keep him blissfully ignorant of it all. The company which owns the lunar base has clearly gone to a great deal of trouble to construct a three-year life for each successive Sam Clone, implanting false memories of a family on Earth, jamming the lunar satellite to prohibit live transmissions, and having Gertie knowingly watch over it all.

With things like online social networking however, the goal is always to lessen someones isolation from society by providing a means for instant communication and exchange of information over any distance. Again, it is clear that things like Facebook and MySpace are quite useful for keeping in touch over long distances, but when these services are allowed to stand in for actual face-to-face human interaction, the kind of technological isolation Sam Bell experiences begins to creep into our lives.

On the subject of music in "Moon," I can say that I was very excited to hear more of Clint Mansell's film scoring work after becoming such a fan of his soundtrack to "Requiem for a Dream." Mansell's score for "Moon" did an impressive job of combining traditional, organically melodic piano lines with the classic dystopic futuristic screeching sound effects that seem to represent the film's struggle between the organic human and the technological machine.

However, other parts of Mansell's score deliver exactly the sort of pseudo-angelic tone clusters and minimalism we have all come to associate with film and film music depictions of space and space travel (think the very beginning of the intro to "Star Trek: The Next Generation"). I think Mansell could certainly have thought a bit more outside of the music box. Perhaps he could have used the same kind of post modern self-referential irony that Gertie's creepy voice and clear reference to "2001, A Space Odyssey's" evil HAL enriches the revelation that Gertie is in fact most interested in being helpful to Sam rather than a hindrance.

I also have this problem with the film's premise: it seems to me that no organization would ever create a base of operations, especially on the moon, which is staffed by only one person--clone or not. This point is crucial to the drama of the film, however, and it causes the word "contrived" to come to my mind.

In all, however, "Moon" is an exceptionally acted, beautifully shot and edited, and thoughtfully conceived film. Sam Rockwell's mostly solo performance is very compelling, the director's skill shows through, and Mansell's score is powerful as expected.

Stay tuned for my comments on WHayes' review and his on mine this time Monday.

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