Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Moon starring Sam Rockwell

(Sam Rockwell carries the weight in Moon)

Forget all the science-fiction bells & whistles. The dilemmas at the center of Moon are simple yet profound. What if you suddenly realize you're not the person you thought you were? What if the people you trust most are lying to you? And even as the doubts pile up, how many of us willfully ignore uncomfortable facts staring us right in the face? Finally, what does it take to goad us into action, if not to save our lives then at least to give us a sense of meaning?

Once you strip away the special effects and technological extrapolations of Moon, these are the questions animating the drama of this brightly-lit but claustrophobic movie made by Duncan Jones, the son of David Bowie. And, in Sam Rockwell, Jones has cast the perfect lead for an existential thriller that raises more questions than it answers. Rockwell has both broadness & depth, able to signal a change in character just by altering his posture, delivering lines from every register with equal conviction. His talents are particularly tested by the fact that he is, by-and-large, the only person on-screen for much of the movie, except for the voice of Kevin Spacey, whose smooth inflections animate the boxy, tentacled automaton functioning as Rockwell's foil.

Moon is essentially a tightly-plotted locked-door mystery, except instead of the English countryside, it's set in the unforgiving environment of an automated mining camp that's out of view of Mother Earth. In this lonely place, Rockwell's character, Sam Bell, serves as caretaker to processes that create power & profit back home, but the toll of his 3-year stint is beginning to show. He has gone a little batty, but who wouldn't? Because of his remoteness (and some faulty equipment), he can't have an actual conversation with his family or his bosses. Instead, they send video messages back and forth, which only heightens his solitude. All he wants is to go home, but he has begun to see things....

But to say Moon is tightly-plotted is not to say it is fast-paced. It has an almost-glacial rhythm, and Jones develops such a naturalistic sense of not stating the obvious that it never feels as if Moon were beating us over the head with its implications. Of course, as the audience, we realize what's actually happening long before Bell does. But Bell seems to take forever to act on his discoveries. Rockwell's talent shines in making this dithering entertaining, like watching Hamlet arguing with himself over the choice of murder or suicide.

It helps that Sam Rockwell is so charming. After all, everyone talks to themselves. But few people can make that conversation interesting. Rockwell has that ability. And Kevin Spacey has always been able to make sincerity seem menacing, adding to the paranoia that starts to infect the air.

(Kevin Spacey animates GERTY)

The mystery gets resolved nicely, with elements that are present from the beginning, showcasing Jones's intelligence in building this puzzle. In fact, Moon is a testament to the director's brainy restraint, as even the special effects smack of doing just enough to keep the story moving forward in a credible way without stealing the spotlight from its characters. One of the weakness of science-fiction movies is their reliance on exposition, which Jones keeps to a blessed minimum. For the most part, he avoids being too obvious. Even the obligatory voice-over at the end is oblique and lifelike enough to be forgiven.

Why a movie like Moon languishes in theaters while a clunky mess like Avatar flourishes says less about the failings of Moon than it does about the failures of audiences. It suggests a world where a story like Moon might actually happen and probably already has.

Find Moon and watch it. I plan to rewatch it again and again.

directed by Duncan Jones
starring Sam Rockwell & Kevin Spacey


  1. Moon is perhaps the finest film of last year (and I watch a lot of films) the only two real pieces of competition it has being Pontypool (if you haven’t seen it, see it...immediately) and Lars von Trier's Antichrist (but, if you ain’t a von Trier fan, stay far away from this one). Among the finest pieces of science fiction of all time—and I do not say this lightly. It is exactly what a sci-fi film should be (exactly what a film, of any variety, should be). I was actually told about it simply as 'There's a film and it's just one guy all alone on the moon the whole time. Guy played by Sam Rockwell'. I was sold, then and there. Then I saw the film. Good Christ, perfection that breeds vicious jealousy. Nice review, by the way.

  2. I stumbled across this movie by accident and LOVED IT! I had never heard about it's release, which is a shame as I try to see everything that Sam Rockwell appears in.

    Watching this movie gave me a very familiar feeling that I have not had since my youthful days reading Bradbury and Asimov. It was a time before I saw Star Wars, and the only visions I had of outer space where the vivid ones that existed only in my head. "Moon" was just a great, unexpected, creative ride.