Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. Moon is directed by Duncan Jones, David Bowie’s son, uses old school miniatures and models instead of CG and directly references the classic ‘used future’ sci-fi style of the Seventies and Eighties. OK, now we have the cheap media hooks out of the way we can get down to the brass tacks, because Moon is, without doubt, one of the best English language films produced in years.
Set in the near future, Earth’s primary source of energy is an eco-friendly chemical called Helium 3 (a real substance involved in nuclear fusion) mined from the dark side of the moon. Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, an astronaught stationed on Lunar Industries’ mining outpost, Sarang, whose three year contract is just a few weeks away from completion. It’s a lonely existence, with only the computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company, and unable to talk to his family since the station’s ‘live feed’ communication transmitter went down.
This life of near-isolation is starting to get to Sam, who regularly talks to himself and passes the hours whittling away at a huge wooden model village, and when he starts to have hallucinations around the base it is clear Sam has caught a serious case of cabin fever. The situation comes to a head during a routine maintenance job on one of the Helium 3 harvesters, when Sam crashes his moon buggy after seeing the ghostly apparition of a girl in the swirling clouds of dust the harvester leaves in its wake.
To say anything more would be spoilerific, but there is a devious simplicity to the plot that will have you wondering why no one has ever done this before. And yet, to label Moon merely a ‘twist movie’ would be doing it an injustice. The film doesn’t hang on its revelations (like The Sixth Sense or Usual Suspects), using them instead as devises to drive the narrative. At its core, Moon is a character study and rumination on the meaning of humanity, much in the same vein as Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris. The influence of these films looms large, as well as taking stylistic cues from other space-faring classics, like Alien and Outland.
To even be mentioned in the same breath as sci-fi luminaries like these is an impressive achievement. But Jones and, scriptwriter, Nathan Parker, have done their homework and realised that science fiction is a genre that explores how technology affects life, often questioning what it means to be human, and using space as both a literal and metaphorical representation of the void within.
Danny Boyle tried to create this dichotomy between the claustrophobic conditions of a space craft and man’s insignificance to the infinite in Sunshine, but failed to produce any characters to care about. In Moon, Jones and Rockwell have created a man whose tribulations are genuinely effecting – someone to feel for.
Jones’ direction is understated and assured, with a keen eye and the odd flourish of visual flair, but it is Rockwell who carries the film. His is a nuanced performance, which, had this been a Hollywood production rather than an indie Brit flick, would probably be decreed a career-defining one (and in with an outside shout for an Oscar nod). Kevin Spacey’s laconically aloof tones are also perfect for GERTY, Sarang’s AI of ambiguous intent.
If all this sounds terribly 2001 – questioning the meaning of life, ghosts in the machine and the creation of manmade gods – don’t worry. While the touch of Kubrick’s masterpiece is undeniable (there are several direct homages), Jones isn’t trying to preach or show everyone how clever he is, while never forgetting that the most important function of cinema is to entertain. And with a lean 90 min running time, Moon is a tight movie, unlike Kubrick’s ponderous space oddity.
Moon refuses to patronise its audience with clumsy exposition or ham-fisted explanations of the obvious, which offers a refreshing change from films that feel the need to telegraph every slight intricacy. This is a grown up film full of big ideas that are gripping, tense and tender in equal measures. If you hark back to the days when science fiction was an important genre, and not an excuse for giant robots/spaceships to blow the shit out of each other in increasingly ludicrous ways, then Moon is a film to be treasured.
It is like watching the kiss of life being administered to a moribund medium: a joy to behold.