Occasionally I’ll have difficulty starting a new review, either because it’s been too long since I watched it or because I’m not sure where to begin analyzing it. With Moon it’s a little bit of both. It’s been months since I watched the film (these reviews are often quite delayed) and I also haven’t completely come to terms with what I saw and what I think about it.
I can tell you this: I didn’t dislike Moon. I’m not sure that I liked it, though, and this is not because it is directed poorly or because it features bad acting or even that the script was weak, because none of these things were the case. In all areas Moon is very impressive and as a creator myself, I would be proud to put my name on such a product. It’s just that I don’t know how I was supposed to feel while I was watching, nor what sensation I was supposed to experience after it was done.
Moon is kind of like a fever dream, filled with vivid, yet unsettling images and ideas. I’ve heard it compared to 2001 and Silent Running and, yes, it bears some superficial similarity those films, but it really is its own thing. Unfortunately I can’t talk a whole lot about what that thing is without spoiling the good stuff.
The premise then: in the future, mankind will mine the Moon for a material essential to the production of abundant, clean energy on Earth. Fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, the process of mining and transporting the necessary ore does not require much in the way of manpower. In fact, it only needs one man, with the rest of the process completely automated. Sam Bell, played by the excellent Sam Rockwell, is the lucky fellow who gets to spend three years in isolation on the lunar surface with only an artificial intelligence called GERTY (Kevin Spacey) for company. Technical difficulties prevent him from speaking with Earth in more-or-less realtime, so he is forced to send e-letters back and forth to his wife, who has given birth to their first child in his absence.
Being alone for three years is like a kind of prison sentence and the loneliness weighs heavily on Sam’s shoulders. He’s closing in on the end of his time and he’s feeling increasingly logy and distractible. During one excursion out to a roving mining machine, he’s involved in a terrible crash and from then on things get decidedly weird.
I mentioned how Moon has been compared to some previous science fiction films. Moon has the visual asceticism of 2001, which is clearly a deliberate design choice on the part of the filmmakers, and its sense of disconnection from Earth living (and the companion robots) comes straight out of Silent Running. This doesn’t cheapen Moon, though; when done well, homage can be a powerful tool and director/co-writer Duncan Jones treads lightly enough that the movie doesn’t venture into rip-off territory.
As real-seeming (and kind of depressing) as the production design is, the lion’s share of credit for Moon‘s success lies with Sam Rockwell. He’s not one of those actors whose name provides instant recognition, but most people know him when they see him. He is a strong supporting performer, and in Moon he is called upon to do much more, not only acting as lead, but as his own backup. I’d explain more, but I think you’re better off learning the answer to that particular riddle on your own.
Moon is a sober and mostly humorless exploration into loneliness, isolation and humanity. It is almost entirely lacking in action of any sort and relies heavily on the weight of its themes to carry the day. I would have to say it is successful in that, though as I have already pointed out, I’m not sure if the word enjoy could be used in conjunction with this movie. It’s far too serious for that and it can be quite affecting at times.
If there’s any lightness in Moon at all, it comes from Kevin Spacey’s vocal performance as GERTY. His voice is instantly recognizable, of course, so you don’t spend any time wondering who it is you’re hearing, but Spacey does such a nice job of evoking the distinct voice of 2001‘s HAL 9000 that you can’t help but hear echoes of the other whenever Spacey speaks. And considering that GERTY is essentially just a slab of robotics with a screen that shows a variety of smiley- or frowny-faces, it’s surprising how clearly he comes across as a character.
Disappointingly enough, Moon seems to have failed as a commercial product. I guess this shouldn’t be too shocking, given the difficult material of the film, but it would have been nice to see a smart, well-made picture succeed on its own terms. Though the minuscule cast and limited sets meant the film could be shot on the cheap, even that wasn’t enough for it to turn much of a profit. I guess people just aren’t in the market for a 2001-like film anymore. I doubt Silent Running would make much of an impression on today’s audiences, either.
I know I’ve left quite a bit unspoken in this review. Normally you can expect some level of plot summary from me, along with an analysis of what follows the spoilery bits, but I watched Moon knowing next to nothing about it and I think that was part of what made the experience so memorable. If I had been given chunks of the story wholesale and then shown the picture, I might not have reacted in the way that I did. The mystery of Moon really must be preserved for it to have its full effect.
So if you’ve been thinking about watching Moon but were holding off because you wanted to know more about it, don’t wait any longer and just watch it. Likewise, if you’re only just now hearing of this film in my review and are at all intrigued, watch it. At 97 minutes it won’t tax your attention span or overstay its welcome and when it’s over you can come back here and tell me how you feel about it. I’m curious to know if your exposure to the movie will result in a reaction similar to my own.