Moon Review: Eternal Moonshine of the Starless Mind

July 13, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

MOON: On general release from Friday 17th July 2009

Moon is the first film directed by Zowie Bowie. You know, David Bowie’s son – him with the silly name.

You won’t find this mentioned in the film’s press release, however. It’s like they’re ashamed somehow, perhaps it might evoke unwanted memories of dad’s outlandishness?

As an elephant in the room, it seems a tad silly (especially in light of Bowie senior’s considerable acting chops) but the PR people needn’t have worried, because Moon is directed with remarkably unshowy self-assurance, and announces Duncan Jones (as Zowie is now, rather more sensibly, known) as an excellent directorial prospect.

Story-wise, Moon is set in a not-too-distant future, where Earth’s energy worries have been nullified by fusion power. But where does the fuel come from? The Moon, that’s where! A sole man, Sam Bell, is up in space, overseeing the hefty strip-mining operation. Two years and 351 days into a three year contract, he’s lonely, speaking to his wife and daughter only sporadically, through video messages. His only ‘live’ relationship is with Gerty, the ship’s helpful smiley-faced computer, and Sam, naturally, is losing it: hallucinations, headaches, “talking to himself on a daily basis”.

After a nasty accident, Sam wakes up back on the base, only to find himself there. Yes, himself. A younger, angrier version of Sam, who claims to be there to fulfil the very same three year contract. Another hallucination, or perhaps something else entirely? And so, with this head-twisting addition, Moon transforms into something of a space-bound Charlie Kaufman (the writer behind Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York) flick.

As with all good sci-fi, there are some intriguing questions here: what makes us human, what makes us us? What about the concept of memory or reincarnation? And how would we react if we met ourselves? There’s not much philosophical goatee-stroking on display, though – these questions enrich the story, rather than form the backbone of it. And despite Sam’s alienation, Moon manages to be enjoyable, rather than a grinding treatise on loneliness.

Much of this is down to Sam Rockwell, and the film falls squarely on his shoulders. Playing two different aspects of the same personality in the lead role(s), Rockwell is chameleonic, excellent, and thankfully spares us the jargon and technobabble that often weighs sci-fi down. The music, by Clint Mansell (of Requiem For A Dream fame) sets the tone well, and Kevin Spacey pulls off his best HAL impression as the voice of Gerty, ensuring a few tittersome moments – and a few poignant ones too.

I suppose the touchstones for comparison here will be the recent Solaris and Sunshine. Whereas Solaris was more self-consciously straight-edge SF, Moon is much more approachable – sometimes it’s fun, even!

And where Sunshine degenerates from a superb opening into a lumpy heap of a slasher/monster movie, Moon remains calm, consistent. Displaying little of the current vogue for snazzy edits or shaky cameras, this often feels like a welcome throwback to classic science fiction, and is all the more refreshing for it.

A pretty film, Moon was actually shot at Shepperton studios, here in good old Blighty. The use of miniatures is excellent, reminding us in the wake of Terminator Salvation, that we’re not all teenagers, and we don’t always need CG robots splurging forth from every on-screen orifice. This is sci-fi made on a tiny budget – at $5m, you could make forty Moons for the price of one Transformers 2 – and there are no prizes for guessing where the more thoughtful work lies.

So, despite being a little slow and inert in places (the second half’s ticking clock mechanism doesn’t quite manage the tention-upping trick), and perhaps lacking a whoa-factor, Moon is an excellent debut, and that rarest of things – a truly indie sci-fi film.

Rob Pearson

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