Sam Rockwell explores the dark side of the dark side of the moon
A story in The New York Times last week reported from a conference where a group of eminent scientists had gathered to discuss the ethical dilemmas that may arise if computers surpass human intelligence. In a typical bit of modern multitasking, I skimmed the article while Fox & Friends (which I was stuck with due to my inability to even remotely fathom my remote) provided morning ambiance and my Sonicare toothbrush steam cleaned my mouth unaided. The question arose with the additional force of freshly ingested caffeine: “Um … hasn’t that already happened?”
I typed it in, and Google says it has. Damn. But not nearly to the degree imagined by the provocative, highly intelligent new sci-fi thriller, Moon. Conceived and directed by Duncan Jones (son of real-life sci-fi character David Bowie), Moon is set within the confines of an energy-harvesting lunar space station run nearly single-grasper-handedly by an emoticon-faced, HAL 9000-like ceiling-mounted robot named GERTY (splendidly voiced by Kevin Spacey). Minor, monkey-could-do-it maintenance is performed by a single measly human. Apparently, to Jones—who got a great deal of effects talent shooting Moon during the midst of the writers’ strike—the future of the labor movement isn’t looking so hot.
That lone human, played with verve and subtle complexity by Sam Rockwell (Choke, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), is named Sam and, with less than a month left in his three-year contract, Sam is going out of his damn gourd with boredom. Only recorded digital dispatches from his wife (Dominique McElligott) and GERTY’s synthesized empathy make life tolerable. And then, one lunar night, on a routine patrol, Sam has a close encounter with himself—not in the metaphorical sense—and an already loony situation gets loonier still.
To say more would force open too early a terrifically wound plot that, as it unfurls, not only thrills but also asks audiences to tussle with timely questions, from the bioethical to the existential, from free will to free markets, from the solicitude we feel for our fellow man to the solitude we feel without him.
With its highly memorable performance(s) by Rockwell, its eerie, subcutaneously experienced original score by Clint Mansell (Pi, Requiem for a Dream) and its glorious-to-behold miniature-model lunar surface special effects (the best since the CIA’s back in ’69, man), Moon is a first-rate homage to the cerebral sci-fi of the ’70s. It’s only slightly eclipsed, as it were, by seminal classics such as Douglas Trumbulls’ Silent Runnings, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
Though it takes place in low gravity, Moon doesn’t lack for gravitas; it’s a piece of entertaining and thought-provoking art for those who don’t find the transformations of Transformers to be adequate character development—nor a satisfyingly imagined rumination on the transformations we’re currently undergoing.