Dir: Duncan Jones
Sony Pictures Classics
We like to hope the future will be better. Take a look at the movies. When not portrayed as a tragic dystopia, all of our wistful aspirations to escape the mundane problems plaguing today’s world manifest themselves in the world of tomorrow. In Total Recall, technology helped improve everything from the way people are screened in airports to a device that changes fingernail color sans the mess of nail polish. In Star Trek interstellar travel is made as simple as beaming from one place to another. Most disease is antiquated or readily cured in the future. Our biological and technological concerns of the past are almost always improved upon.
However, most science fiction films are caveats, warnings that if we don’t change our ways we will be condemned to a horrific damnation of rotting morals and decaying ideals. We can ease our bodily and industrial concerns, but that does not change the basic nature of humans or society. Just look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that still looms large 40 years later. Though mostly set in space in a sterile future, the film encompasses the most basic of human drives: the need for contact, the dangers of isolation and that intrinsic question of what it means to be human.
Much like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie) brings these questions into a futuristic setting with Moon. Humanity is now harvesting solar energy from the rocks of the moon. This operation, run by one corporation has a lunar outpost where a solo engineer handles the day-in, day-out functions, accompanied only by robot Gerty 3000 (voiced by Kevin Spacey in a dead-pan nod to Kubrick’s HAL 9000) during a three year tour of duty. We meet Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) as he enters the final two weeks of this commitment. Since two-way communication with Earth is not possible, Sam can only speak with his bosses and wife via pre-recorded video messages. It is obvious his three-year isolation is beginning to affect Sam, evidenced by the sickly pallor of his skin and the ghostly images he begins to see of people who are not there. When he is involved in an accident during a routine expedition, he returns to find his base occupied by the last person he’d expect to find in outer space.
Jones is not concerned with leading the audience into a suspense sci-fi film and all of those tropes are left by the wayside. Instead, he is more interested in exposing corporate hypocrisy and the effects isolation has on the human condition. True, it is no surprise that Sam’s bosses are not entirely honest with him, but a corporate thriller would be an easy way out. Instead, Jones concentrates more on the inner dialogue of man kept in isolation and the slow realization that he and the entire physical and mental microcosms that house him are nothing but a conceit.
Beyond all the philosophical searching, Rockwell gives a great performance in what is more or less a one-man film. His Sam is alternately naïve and dubious. This is a strong performance by one of our most undervalued actors.
Many of us operate under the assumption that the future will be a halcyon time where issues such as greed, alienation and servitude do not exist. But Jones and Rockwell give us an alternative spin on those ideals. In the world of Moon we have solved our energy crisis and mankind can continue without worry of using up resources, yet in most ways in the future humanity is just like it is today.
by David Harris