Moon

by | Jul 16th, 2009 | 5:27PM | Filed under: Theatrical Reviews

Note: Today marks the 40th Anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11—Monday will be the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s One Small Step. That moment is my earliest and most vivid memory—or is it? I remember watching the moon walk on TV with my parents, but is it a real memory, or a fantasy I’ve just continually reinforced and polished over the decades until I only think I remember it? And that’s as good a segue as any into Moon…

Moon-poster-2 “There is no dark side of the Moon. In fact, it’s all dark” – Some mad, English rock star.

And no, it wasn’t David Bowie. But let’s get Bowie out of the way early—yes, Moon is the directorial debut of his son, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones. And yes, it’s not hard to imagine that some of the film’s existential and alienation themes may have soaked into young Zowie Bowie’s head as “Space Oddity” played over his crib.

And yes, in his low-budget tale of lonely corporate space worker Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) grinding out the final weeks of a three-year solitary shift on the far side of the moon, Jones openly admits to drawing inspiration from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, Solaris, Alien, Outland, and Blade Runner. Moon’s sci-fi world is a minimalist one, where the daily blue-collar lunchpail routine (Sam is overseeing strip mining of a new helium energy source) gives way to frightening glimpses into the human condition and one’s place in the Grand (or Not-So-Grand) Scheme.

There is a robot, Gerty (voiced with every bit of unsettling calm by Kevin Spacey), but it does not transform into anything or punch any other robots into next week. There is a car crash, but it comes off as more of mundane mishap than gripping entertainment. But there are no shoot-outs. No space battles. And the only alien in sight is that pesky one within that Philip K. Dick was always so found of rubbing your face in.

Moon is a mesmerizing film. But some caution is necessary. In the rush to praise it as the Anti-Transformers and to champion small, smart, hard science fiction on the screen, critics and sci-fi geeks are pumping Moon up to levels of expectation that could be deadly for the little film. Moon is slow-paced. It is brooding and thoughtful in a matter-of-fact manner, and if you do not give yourself over to its meditative nature, you may find yourself with a deadly infestation of Moon ants in your spacesuit pants.

(You can read James Rocchi’s excellent piece on science fiction vs. action films here.)

Instead, sit back, relax and let Jones, first-time screenwriter Nathan Parker, and Sam Rockwell have their lunar way with you, even if they take their own leisurely time about it.

Sam_and_gerty_armMoon was specifically written to showcase the offbeat talents of Rockwell, long a personal fave. You want the manic, goofy Rockwell of Galaxy Quest, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? There’s an echo of him here, but it’s all too clear the sorts of fears and doubts that mania is masking. You want the brooding, melancholy Rockwell of The Assassination of Jesse James, Snow Angels, and Choke? There’s some of him moping around as well.

Rockwell’s MO for his characters has often been to cling bravado in the face of a world around him that has slipped beyond his ken, and that habit of his lost, befuddled characters retreating into their own heads to find escape works perfectly in Moon. Due to a turn of unexpected events, Sam Bell–a glorified maintenance man– has to struggle not only with the Big Questions about Life and Existence but to do so while playing philosophical (and literal) ping-pong with a seemingly living challenge to his already very shaky identity. Desperate to complete his shift and return to his wife and child on Earth, Sam finds his simple work life is being manipulated and messed with by someone–but who? The energy corporation he works for? Mischievous aliens? The time-space continuum? God, Buddha, and/or Allah?

And what happens when you ask Who Am I and Why Am I Here, and you get back the most basic, prosaic, utilitarian answer? What if you find out your beloved individual existence is not so much a lie as it is a commodity, a resource to be exploited? What if your futuristically banal moon base is just a big cubicle?

All this plays out on a stark, bleakly beautiful moonscape, where Sam’s maddening solitude is intensified by the shabby-sterile white surfaces inside his work base and the gray desolation outside. Jones and Rockwell do an impressive job of making the fairly spacious and vastly understaffed base feel close and claustrophobic—it’s not the walls that are closing in on Sam, it’s the cosmos.

Rockwell-moon-church (It’s one of the film’s many deft touches that, despite seemingly tons of room, Sam sleeps on a cramped, narrow cot. Heck, even Dave Bowman eventually got a king-sized bed.)

For all its wonderfully rendered, poignant lunar existentialism, Moon still unfolds a solid science fiction tale, full of mystery and ideas–and not all of them have epic, mind-blowing resolutions. Granted, it’s not going to be everybody’s cuppa Tang. But if the summer’s loud, hot, garish parade of killer robots and boy wizards has you seeking an escape that makes you think with your head instead of just react with your lizard brain, I recommend this very cool trip to the dark side.


10 Responses to “Moon

  1. Fiirvoen (Jason)
    Posted on July 17, 2009 at 8:07 am

    I want to see this movie so bad. I heard it was starting in a limited release. Do you know when and if it will be nationwide? Or do I just need to wait until it’s out on DVD?

  2. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on July 17, 2009 at 11:32 am

    Moon expanded to about 400 theaters nationwide last weekend and is expanding further this weekend, though I don’t know if just by a few or a few hundred screens. I’m sure the plan is to keep expanding it as long as box office grows along with it, so keep an eye out!

  3. Matt Doman
    Posted on July 23, 2009 at 10:56 am

    finally had a chance to see this in New Orleans last night. it was fantastic, amazing, and everything Locke says it is here.
    btw, what an EXPERT review! you captured all of the best qualities of the film and story without giving anything away. Movies that I’ve definitely decided to see, I wait until after to read what you guys have to say about, but this article merely teases and whets the appetite rather than spoiling the meal.
    thanks Locke!

  4. Shanon
    Posted on January 10, 2010 at 12:14 am

    When does it come to Redbox?

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on January 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    In just two days, Shanon! Moon will be in the boxes this coming Tuesday.

  6. Fiirvoen
    Posted on January 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Finally!

  7. Matthew S.
    Posted on January 13, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    This movie was amazing! Especially after watching the special features and learning they did it for $5 Million, where as Sunshine, an independent film was done for $50 Million.
    They really used every cent, and Rockwell, brilliant, especially when you realize that’s him doing everything. I again do not think I have ever seen a movie with Rockwell that I haven’t enjoyed.

  8. Locke Peterseim
    Posted on January 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I obviously love Moon (I haven’t seen it since the summer and am looking forward to a second viewing on DVD asap), but I also REALLY like Sunshine–it probably won’t make my Decade Faves list, but it will certainly merit an Honorable Mention.
    Actually not a bad double feature–Sunshine and Moon. Both smart, gripping, and fascinating in how their heavenly bodies of choice influence the films’ tones–Sunshine is all about heat, power, energy, destructive power, while Moon is so cold, internal, introspective.

  9. Matthew S.
    Posted on January 14, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    Hmmm, never thought of it that way, but I see your point.
    I loved how the movie takes the very big twist towards the end, which I was not expecting all of that to transpire on the ship.
    I probably will buy Moon one of these days, I did enjoy it enough to add to my growing collection.

  10. FOLLADORDEPROSTIS
    Posted on October 3, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    The first 15 minutes were a little boring,but then the rest of the movie was great,a great sci fi movie just like district 9 and inception,underrated movie,better than avatar.