Imagine you’ve screwed up your life enough that it’s time for a significant break. A really significant change from your day-to-day reality. For Sam Bell (played brilliantly by Sam Rockwell), that break involves being shipped to the far side of the moon by Lunar Industries, Inc. to work solo on a Helium-3 (HE3) mining facility. For three years.
Moon starts out with Sam only having two weeks left on Mining Base Sarang before his three year contract is up, but before long he starts to see things and we notice some oddities on the station, little things that don’t really add up.
Keeping Sam company is the GURTY 3000 computer system, one of many elements that were an homage to the brilliant 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike the abstract red eye of the HAL 9000, however, GURTY is a big ugly box with a small video screen that displays bright yellow smiley faces and has a “kick me” post-it stuck to its back. At least once or twice we are left wondering if GURTY is telling the truth to Sam or whether it’s programmed to lie too, just as 2001 is partially about the veracity and gradual breakdown of the HAL system.
Two weeks? How hard can it be to stick it out and survive his last two weeks of lunar work before he is shipped back to his beautiful wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and young daughter Eve (Kaya Scodelario)? And yet, strange things keep happening and soon Sam’s seeing himself when he looks elsewhere in the claustrophobically small station, then has an accident while in a rover out servicing a Harvester and is brought back to Sarang. But by whom?
Perhaps it’s inevitable that the actor who played Zaphod Beelebrox in the amusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy would find himself playing this part. A further interesting aspect of Moon is that the writer / director Duncan Jones is the son of singer and actor David Bowie. Oh and the voice of GERTY? None other than the talented Kevin Spacey.
There’s so much about this film that I really liked, I’m not sure where to start. The space station is believably grungy without being the flying disaster of, say, Alien‘s Nostromo, and there are many subtle elements of foreshadowing that are brilliant, starting as tedious and uninteresting background that become quite important as the film slowly moves to its final act.
After Sam’s Harvester accident, GERTY informs him that there’s a team that’s been sent from Earth to help get everything ship-shape again, three astronauts whose rescue mission is dubbed Eliza. Eliza is going to arrive eight hours after the emergency and from that point on there’s a digital countdown clock that’s a direct homage to the cheesy Outland (which itself is an homage to classic High Noon, of course).
In many ways, Moon is a one-man show, a film that could almost be a stage play as so much of it happens within the confines of Mining Base Sarang. That isn’t to say that the exterior scenes aren’t critical to the storyline, they are, and they look crisp and stark as we’ve learned to expect from the lunar surface.
Running just a bit more than 90 minutes, the film also unfolds slowly and with at least a few of what Hitchcock loved to call MacGuffin’s, things that exist in the movie purely to deceive us in the audience into thinking we understand what’s happening and why. I can’t say more without spoiling the film, but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.
And, finally, that’s my recommendation for this: just go see it.
Even if you’re not a huge science fiction fan, I promise you that it’s a fascinating journey into the mind of a man left to fend for himself in a hostile environment for almost 1000 days straight.