Monday, November 2, 2009

Moon (2009)

While it clearly owes it's genesis to early, atmospheric science fiction films, the influence of 2001: A Space Oddyssey is impossible to miss, Moon is much more than a rookie film-makers tribute to the movies that influenced him. It is a brooding and ambitious attempt to remind audiences around the world that science fiction is best served when it explores the depths of what it is to be human, rather than dabble in the excesses of special effects.

Moon is the directing debut of Duncan Jones. Yes, he is the son of David Bowie. Let that be the last we say of Jones's genetics. It's the story of Sam Bell, portrayed by Sam Rockwell, who is approaching the end of his 3-year contract harvesting energy on the far side of the moon. His only accompaniment is the robot Gertie, voiced, in a clear tribute to 2001, by Kevin Spacey. Things go south when Sam has an accident and finds himself suddenly accompanied by a second, younger, version of himself on the moon.'

The film doesn't fall into the trap of saving plot revelations until the very end. Moon is more interested in exploring the meaning of Sam's revelations, rather than using the element of surprise as a crutch. While I respect this choice, the film's most fascinating moments and explorations come independently from the twist. It is more interesting to watch Sam come to terms with his life, a simple human activity hindered by the sheer distance between him and the world, than to explore, the already well discussed, questions of identity presented by cloning and artificial intelligence. The questions have their merit, and are worthy of exploration, but the ground feels unnecessarily familiar. I can't help but to wonder if Moon would be more effective without the jarring reminder that this is a science fiction movie. Would it not be just as interesting to watch a man cope with his isolation rather than to wade through the added muck of science fiction dogma? It's clear that the films intention is to explore these questions, but a veteran film maker would have come to the conclusion that there may be more interesting areas to explore.

On a tactile level, Moon is a well crafted film. The script hits on some really profound ideas and it's well complimented by the stillness of the setting and direction. This stillness creates wonderful moments of dread, but also contributes to the films overall lack of perceived conflict and danger. Even when Sam's life hangs on the line, the movie never feels like it is driving anywhere. Whether a choice or not, it was difficult to care whether or not Sam succeeded because we never really felt like it was important. This is in some ways a product of the twist and in some ways a failure of direction. Great films can blend quiet, stillness and true drama into a beautiful, haunting concoction. Moon only succeeds in being slightly dull. The true bright spot in Moon is Sam Rockwell. His performance is the driving cinematic force of the film. The moments where he tries to come to terms with his stay on the moon and what it has done to him are the moments of promise in the films murky script. Even he has trouble finding the right tone for the second half of the film, but his constant intensity and dedication to the character, or characters if you prefer, is a breath of fresh air.

Ultimately Moon doesn't completely succeed. It's too familiar and the conflict never reaches a satisfying crescendo. A remarkable performance by the film's leading man, or "men" to be more accurate, helps to keep the film rolling when the drama has stalled. A worthy debut for Duncan Jones, and a movie that deserves some attention for it's sheer ambition.



Danny King said...

I'm pretty upset to admit that I'm going to have to wait for DVD to watch this film. I've been wanting to see it for so long as I think that Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated actors out there.

Alfindeol said...

I was mad that I had to wait as long as I did. I had planned to see it in theaters, but the only place showing it near me was having sound issues. It'll be worth the wait though.

On Sam Rockwell, he is a pretty talented actor. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is a favorite of mine.