Posted by Kuang on Fri, 19 Feb 2010.
Moon is set in a time when the Earth’s energy problems have been all but solved by the use of Helium-3 fusion reactors, which provide a clean source of seemingly endless power. The problem is that Helium-3 doesn’t occur on the Earth, and has to be harvested from the Moon.
Sam Bell is the sole technician at a Moon base owned by Lunar Industries, the company behind the Helium-3 programme, and is responsible for running the harvesting machines and sending the full fuel canisters back to Earth. His three year contract is one of endless routine, and even the calming presence of GERTY, the ship’s artificial intelligence, isn’t enough to help Sam avoid the psychological problems that come with isolation. This isn’t helped by a damaged communication satellite that prevents Sam from communicating live with his wife and daughter back on Earth, leaving him with a series of recorded messages as a substitute.
Sam’s deteriorating mental state eventually leads to what appear to be hallucinations, which result in a serious accident whilst servicing one of the harvesters on the Moon’s surface. The next thing he remembers is waking up in the medical bay with strict orders from GERTY not to leave the base, and the sense that something isn’t right.
Moon is a triumphant return to hard sci-fi, resembling a combination of the classic films 2001, Silent Running, and George Lucas’ THX1138. The atmosphere is cold, minimalist and claustrophobic, and the clinical surroundings of the base coupled with GERTY’s soothing voice (provided by Kevin Spacey) and unclear allegiance create a noticeable sense of tension and loneliness. This presents lead actor Sam Rockwell with a challenge, as has very little to work with outside of his own presence. Fortunately this proves not to be a problem, as Rockwell knocks the ball out of the park with an unsettling and emotional performance that becomes even more remarkable as the film’s main plot twist develops.
Even though the science is a key part of the story, director Duncan Jones structures the plot such that the human impact of these developments becomes the focus rather than the technicalities. Moon plays quite heavily on the theme of corporate ethics, especially what happens when human beings are factored into the cost/benefit analysis of a project, and leaves the timeless philosophical question hanging ‘what value do you place on a life?’. It also incorporates the classic sci-fi elements of control and conspiracy, but the viewer can’t feel any satisfaction upon working out what’s really going on because the truth is too grim to contemplate. There are further developments which pose even deeper and more emotional philosophical questions, but it’s not possible to discuss those without giving away too much.
For fans of traditional sci-fi or minimalist cinema, Moon is a masterpiece. The atmosphere is realistic enough to be believable without being far-fetched, the philosophical themes are harsh and uncompromising, and the writer tackles the politics of the situation without preaching. It’s also rare to see a single actor carry a film in such a convincing way with so little support on screen, so Rockwell’s performance is worth watching regardless of your feelings about the genre.