Posted on 1/04/12 03:48 PM
Take the set from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the plodding self-importance of Event Horizon, the brooding paranoia of Solaris and the psychological disorientation of Dark City, then combine it with a thoughtful, streamlined, easy-going and wholly original science-fiction yarn about the fickle nature of human memory in a world of unchecked moral accountability... and you get Moon, a pleasantly traditional and highly satisfying Sci-Fi character drama.
Sam Bell is a lonely astronaut living at Sarang station on the far side of the moon, overseeing the harvest of "H3", an energy source refined from billions of years of sunlight sponged up by the pock-marked rock. With two weeks left on a three year contract, his sanity waning, he begins to experience increasingly strange happenings. None of these occurrences are ever fully explained, or even mentioned, instead relying on the audience's imagination and the reactions by the small cast to fill in the blanks. That cast consists of a highly talented and always in-character Sam Rockwell, a floating computer voiced by Kevin Spacey, and... well, no need to spoil the best parts of the movie.
Moon exists in a universe all its own. The isolation of the setting, and the loneliness and increasing instability of the main character, are flanked by a disturbing sequence of reveals and plot twists, which appear casually hallucinogenic at first but soon become very, very real. The story unfolds at a fairly leisurely pace and is augmented by Clint Mansell's gorgeously moody soundtrack. The moon itself is eerie, silent and dead looking, as it should be, with splinters of creeping sunlight casting long indifferent shadows on the cold machinery that roams the perimeter of Sam's tiny base, endlessly harvesting. The exterior shots are a combination of highly-detailed models and CGI, they look fantastic, and the fact that an object so close to our planet could be so barren and lifeless is disturbing. But that's space for you.
Folks who appreciate the precision cinematography necessary to portray the same character multiple times in the same shot, similar to techniques used in Adaptation and City of Lost Children, will get a kick out of much of the character interaction in Moon. The film sets itself up as a standard sci-fi mystery, with Sam and his talking computer and his cold dead-tech interior design facing off against a series of dubious epiphanies. Moon doesn't give you everything right away. As with some of the best Sci-Fi, a lot of the fun comes from the confusion of the story, formulating conclusions, making predictions, then feeling pleasantly rewarded when you end up being right, and even more so when the film surprises you. It's a tragic and beautiful equilibrium that only the visual medium can conjure.
This is like a good, long episode of the Twilight Zone, with the black-and-white cheesiness removed and replaced with some fairly powerful emotions. These never seem cheap or forcefully wrung from the viewer; they grow organically out of the situation as we acquire new details alongside the characters, who exist in a vacuum of possibilities, literally and figuratively. Once the main twist of the film has been established, smartly toward the beginning, it is up to the sharp premise and smart acting to figure out where we go from here, and while the story remains slow and the tone subdued, to call Sam's journey boring, simplistic or uninteresting wouldn't be fair. His story is compelling, and it's fun as well as disturbing to imagine what we might do in Sam's shoes.
Moon raises some interesting questions about what makes us part of a human race. Is it our drive to invent, to create? What happens when one person's urge to create overwhelms the will of another? Or several people? Or an entire corporation? At what point do our energy needs, our technological prowess, and our sense of morality as a populous intersect? How do we balance all three? One more than another? If we choose to subdue ethical responsibility at its root in order to triumph technology, who's to say nature won't find another way to creep in and rot away the surety of our foundations? Or perhaps we will find our plans turned upside-down by our own creations. Gerty, the seemingly passive AI, comes off as a little too helpful at times. Is his empathic nature part of his programming, or something more? Who is really in control here? Sam Bell, our protagonist, is the end result of such humanistic dilemmas, and watching him take matters into his own hands once all the pieces start to come together is very exciting indeed.
But I digress. Science Fiction is at its best when the factors of Humanity and Technology overlap in interesting and unpredictable ways. Moon is that kind of Sci-Fi, the kind that not only raises old questions in a refreshing way, but makes you wonder where the questions start and where they end.
It is both empowering and disheartening that the genre only seems to find new footing when we as a species create new problems for ourselves.