This review of Moon will endeavor to be as spoiler-free as possible, but that means I can’t really talk about anything past the end of the first act. It isn’t that Moon is a movie with a twist but rather it’s a movie whose reveals are too good to be spoiled. The problem with that, though, is that the thematic elements of Moon that resonate the most are behind that end-of-first-act firewall, so to even begin to tell you why I liked this film so much risks spoiling the discovery inherent in it.
The biggest pain in the ass this creates is discussing Sam Rockwell’s performance. It’s a great one, possibly the best of his career, but it’s the very heart of not only the movie but of the amazing elements of the second and third acts. Suffice it to say that Rockwell plays both ends of a character arc at once – Sam the moon base engineer who is ready to begin a three year stint alone on the far side of the moon as well as Sam the moon base engineer at the very end of his tenure, deeply changed by three years of utter, crushing solitude. Sam lives alone on a lunar base, tending to harvesters that turn sun energy soaked moon rocks into Helium 2, a clean burning source of energy that provides power to 70% of Earth’s population. His only companion is Gerty, a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey that acts as doctor, psychiatrist, buddy and mother. Spacey’s voice – calm, measured and warm, is incredible.
If I hadn’t know that Duncan Jones, director and credited with the story of Moon, was David Bowie’s son before I saw the movie, I don’t know that I would have been all that surprised when I did find out. His film deals with deep, personal questions of humanity in a science fiction context in much the same way his father’s glam-era scifi rock did. This film isn’t like Space Oddity in terms of story, but they come from the same wellspring that understands that spaceships and alien worlds are only interesting as ways of examining who we are, sociologically as people living in the world today and anthropologically as human beings. Moon does both.
The film is also starkly beautiful. The design of the moonbase and the lunar rovers are realistic, believable but also remiscent of great scifi movies like 2001 and Silent Running (both of which Moon shares a very, very close bloodline. If you wanted to do a trilogy of hard scifi films, you could do a lot worse than these three, which shares themes and visuals). The world in which Sam lives has been thought out and makes sense, even though it doesn’t quite click at first (the reveals cleared up lots of niggling technical questions I had during the first act). The effects work seamlessly – some that I can’t reveal are so good as to be nearly baffling, especially at the limited budget level at which Moon was made. And the score by Clint Mansell is gorgeous, spare and haunting.
The biggest problem I have with Moon is a bit of voice over at the end that ties things up a little too patly – there’s a great final image that could have easily stood on its own, and the voice-over makes the possibility of a sequel a little redundant. And yes, I said a sequel as if that’s a good thing; after the screening I joked with James Rocchi that the pitch for Moon 2 would be [potentially spoilery, so swipe] Blade Runner meets Silkwood*.
Moon may not be for everyone. Another critic complained that it felt like a short story, but I’ve always contended that short stories make the best movies – you’re not losing elements, you’re making them richer, as opposed to the gutting process that comes with adapting a novel. Moon is very contained, very small, quiet and slow. It isn’t a puzzle movie or a gimmick movie, but it manages to surprise by making choices that are not obvious and that are not part of the scifi cliches we expect (another spoiler: I love this movie for avoiding the evil robot cliche and going the exact opposite route with it). If only Hollywood was willing to make more science fiction films like this one.
*credit to Rocchi for making the Blade Runner reference.