Lunarcy! review

Andrew checks out an endearing documentary about people who want to live on the moon...

A lot of the films I’ve seen at the Edinburgh Film Festival this year concern reality crushing the individual’s idealism, misplaced or otherwise.

The resolution, happy or otherwise, involves an accommodation of pragmatic acceptance into this idealism. The trend leans towards being realistic, thus enabling yourself to flourish under more achievable circumstances.

Lunacy! politely disagrees. It celebrates the romance of scientific advances, reflecting the sadness of accepting pragmatism in the face of humanity’s natural inclination to explore. By its conclusion all notions of schadenfreude have been dismissed in favour of fervour; why the hell aren’t we on the bloody moon? We should be on the moon! It’ll be a place of idealism undiminished.

Canadian director Simon Ennis brings an endearing deadpan sensibility to the subject, abandoning narration in favour of a wry commentary via captions. Initially exploring some of the oddballs who are driven in some form by the moon, it observes its subjects’ quirks by quoting them exactly, which has the effect of being both funny and neutral. Yes, it highlights absurdities, but then again these people did just say those words.

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Christopher Carson is immediately a source of laughter in this respect. He wants to live on the moon. He wears a blue smock with “LUNA CITY OR BUST!” written on it. He is idiosyncratically attired in a hat, sharp facial hair and loud waistcoat combo. He is totally earnest in his conviction that someone will leave Earth one day, and never return. In his words “I don’t see why that shouldn’t be me.”

We also see Peter Koch, secretary of the Moon Society and editor of the Moon Miners’ Manifesto (as an aside, he’s also an interesting figure in terms of his longevity, having been publishing magazines since the days of old IBM word processors). Koch is a more level-headed mixture of pragmatism and idealism. He is excited by the prospect of lunar colonisation, but knows it’s not something he can take part in. Instead, he has dedicated his time to the theoretical side of day-to-day life on the planet. Certainly he and Carson are both motivated by a desire for humanity’s progress, Dennis Hope, on the other hand, is on the Venn diagram, but with less altruistic motives.

After finding a loophole in a U.N. Treaty, he now owns the Moon, sells land there, and created a Galactic Council to enforce law in these territories.

He’s an ex-ventriloquist, though he still has the knack (Peter Brough fans should probably give this film a wide berth).

These three are not the only interview subjects. We also have a former Apollo astronaut turned painter (who states that he would get someone else in to do portraits of his dogs, but if you want something done of the moon, he’s your guy), astrophysicists, authors, Moon Rock detectives, and Jamie Matthews. In 1972 he lied about his age and won a competition to become a Youth Ambassador for Canada, visiting Apollo 17 and gaining a piece of moon rock. The Canadian government asked for the rock, but compensated him in an incredibly underwhelming way. There are numerous stories here that fit into the film’s initial whimsy, before it gives way to a more reflective tone.

Many of the people interviewed are from the post-war generations, and some of them are genuinely angry about the lack of progress with regards space exploration. Readers of this website may well watch, read and listen to a fair bit of ’60s science fiction, and be familiar with the future these stories paint. Look at Doctor Who, with its moonbases and T-mats, or the shows of Gerry Anderson with their space exploration successes and world governments. There was optimism there, and expectancy. Looking at NASA, let alone the world in general, is it any wonder there’s an air of melancholy about some of these people?

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However, we are in the presence of a dreamer. Christopher Carson becomes the focal point, and performs a talk at a laser show to a large group of teenagers. He preaches his message at Times Square. These events have different reactions, but build towards something more optimistic at the film’s denouement. Carson is from the same town as astronaut Alan Dean, a man who has walked on the moon, and their meeting is not only heartwarming, but fries the brain quite pleasantly too. This is exacerbated by the film’s soundtrack. Christopher Sandes’ score is a fuzzy midpoint between Paddy Kingsland and Mark Mothersbaugh.

In real life, it turns out that Carson actually approached Ennis at a conference in Phoenix, and after their initial meeting the director decided to follow Carson across the country. We meet his parents, and learn that he and his mother are both autistic. We also learn that both he and his mother are brilliant.

The film shows Carson for who he is, a self-aware man who is both deliberately and accidentally hilarious, and with a burning desire to find something better. His response to the question of why he wants to leave the world behind is angry, funny, and as concise a polemic as you could hope to find. If his methods leave something to be desired, his goals are entirely sensible and laudable. They may even be achievable, but probably not via NASA or a national space agency.

Ultimately, this is a film that celebrates rather than mocks, one that discovers a zest for exploration that it argues is part of the human essence. Rather than be content to sit back, let’s boldly go somewhere, and do something laudable. It’s a wonderfully upbeat conclusion. I left the cinema feeling majestically zesty.

Lunarcy! is an inspiring piece of film-making, standing out in a film festival full of pieces about isolation and shattered dreams. Good for it. Watch it, and resolve to help humanity become a species that uses stuff like Kickstarter to conquer space, rather than helping make another Zach Braff film.

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4 out of 5