There is a lesser spotted sci-fi movie that exists that kinda skimmed off most people’s radar. It even skimmed off mine for quite a while. It was at least a year after it was released on DVD that I actually got round to seeing it. And what I saw was a film that, to be frank, made me feel something that I hadn’t felt in quite a while. Absolute despair at a characters situation. And that film was Moon.
Moon tells the story of Sam Bell, an engineer who is working alone on the dark side of the moon. The period he has to work is three years. His only companion is a robot called Gerty. He is completely alone. He is in his own personal prison. He gets the occasional message from his wife and daughter at home but communication systems are down so he has no way of having a one-to-one.
We begin the film towards the end of Sam’s stint on the moon. He’s looking forward to going home but he is having visions (his wife, himself in video footage looking different etc) and is beginning to feel unwell. You sympathise with him because obviously such a long period of isolation would make anyone crack up.
When Sam is involved in an accident while outside of the moon base in a vehicle (brought on by a vision) and is knocked unconscious, but then wakes up in the infirmary… with his loyal robot Gerty acting a tad strange, you start to wonder ‘how long was he out?’
The following does contain spoilers; if you haven’t seen this masterpiece, please don’t read anymore till you have…
Sam, who is informed he can’t leave the space station and that a ‘clean up’ team is coming, causes a leak in the base and demands to go outside to fix it. Gerty obliges reluctantly. Sam goes and tries to find a communication signal. Instead he finds his crashed vehicle. He looks inside and finds himself unconscious. He brings ‘himself’ back to the base.
This is where the film comes into its own for me. You are thinking to yourself, ‘has this guy gone so insane that he’s now seeing himself?’, It doesn’t help that he can’t really get a straight answer from Gerty, who you still think has gone evil in a ‘HAL’ kind of way but, on repeated viewings, you realise is just doing what he’s programmed to do. As the realisation sinks in that they are in fact clones with a three-year life span, the ‘going home’ part is just that clone being destroyed, and those messages from his wife and kid are just pre-recorded from the first mission it really hits you… this guy has nothing to live for. The one thing he was looking forward to all this time has been taken away from him. He is getting towards the end of his life already and is falling apart, both mentally and physically… the new clone has a chance to get away but it’s the original clone you feel for the most.
What the director Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son ‘Zowie Bowie’, has created is an extremely tense and uncertain film. The bleakness of the set, the desperation of the characters and the way the film was shot are truly exceptional. The story itself is one that really affects you. There are scenes that truly break your heart, for example: when Sam finally gets a signal for Earth and calls his wife to be greeted by his daughter, who is nearly fully grown. He tries to ask how her mum is but what he gets is his daughter calling for her dad. When you hear the ‘original Sam’s voice asking whats wrong, it’s a horrible moment.
The main thing that makes this film work though is the career best performance of Mr Sam Rockwell. I’m in a slight minority because Sam Rockwell used to annoy me a bit. In every other film I’ve seen him in he would just get on my tits a little. But in this he excels. The man not only has to perform an emotional rollercoaster, he also has to act alongside himself. He has some truly memorable scenes, the moment when, after not knowing the other clone that long, he asks if he can shake his hand because, obviously it’s been years since he’s shook anyones hand… when in fact, he’s never had any physical contact with a human being at all. When the clone denies his wishes the look of heartbreak on Rockwell’s face is just astonishing. The table tennis scene, the scene when new clone is looking for the ‘hidden room’ and destroys the model town that old clone has been working on for the duration, etc. All these scenes are just expertly played out and really delve into this characters psyche.
I don’t want to go on about this film too much. Needless to say it is, in my opinion, one of the finest sci-fi films in quite some time and it also goes to show how excellent independent film can be too. It is a shining example of an idea that really connects with your fears; Isolation, desperation, ignorance being bliss, the passing of time being something we can never reclaim, how we see ourselves and, possibly most importantly, learning to trust a big robot voiced by Kevin Spacey.