way out: Rockwell in Moon.
Control to Major Sam
by Duncan Jones
Considering his famous dad’s fascination with all things cosmic,
and affinity as a young man for taking on alter egos, it comes
as no surprise that the debut film from Duncan Jones—aka Zowie
Bowie, son of David—deals with the psychological ramifications
of life in outer space, and the fragility of human identity.
Jones’ Moon boldly goes where many men have gone before,
but still manages to come up with something new.
Set in the near future, the film opens with a brief “commercial”
promoting Lunar Industries, a company that harvests energy-rich
helium 3 from the far side of the moon. Sam Bell (a typically
excellent Sam Rockwell) is a one-man crew on the company’s
Sarang lunar base where his only companion is a helpful, HAL-like
bot called Gerty (voiced, ideally, by Kevin Spacey). Naturally
Sam is lonely, pining for the wife and child he hasn’t seen
in years. This condition is made worse by the lack of a functioning
live-communication link with Earth.
On the bright side, Sam is nearing the completion of his three-year
assignment. But suddenly things get weird: His physical condition
begins deteriorating; he starts to experience visions, headaches.
And one day, after he’s injured off-base while checking on
a malfunctioning mining rover, he awakens to find he’s got
The film turns sharply here: Rather than just an examination
of one man’s tortured psyche, Moon becomes a meditation
on reality, personality, and morality. The physical atmosphere
somehow becomes less claustrophobic, but the existential landscape
becomes flurried with questions. Who is the “real” Sam Bell,
and how will he coexist with himself? Is Gerty here to help,
or to guard the truth? And to what lengths will Lunar Industries—and
the human race in general—go to keep fuel in their minivans?
In this second half, as the layers begin to pile on, Jones
loses his focus a bit, leading to an emotionally satisfying
but rather conventional climax. This isn’t as much a complaint
as a critique: Once the premise is revealed, the story could
go in a number of directions; Jones chooses what could be
considered an easy road. But it’s artfully and, again, satisfyingly
The direction, particularly in the early part of the film
when we see Sam roaming the retro-futuristic halls of his
space-cage, recalls the great 1960s and ’70s work of Stanley
Kubrick—2001, obviously, but also The Shining.
(In its playful moments, Moon also resembles a live-action
Wall-E.) There’s an attention to detail here, necessitated
in part by a modest budget, that’s lost in the CGI mucky-muck
of too many modern sci-fi films. Jones’ use of model miniatures
gives the moon’s surface a familiar distance; clever lighting
tricks and postproduction elements bring these tried-and-true
methods into the modern age. But the gravy is the split-screen
work: Plenty of films have incorporated this trick, but the
interaction between the two Sams is unlike anything you’ve
This is a multilayered film that comes close to taking on
too much, and in doing so it runs the risk of revealing itself
too early. But when it sticks to its basic tenets as an old-school
sci-fi creeper, Moon is a major success.