It’s quite amazing that Moon was shot on such a small budget (about $5 million). It has a scale and a scope that would suggest it’s an incredibly expensive production. It just shows what you can do when you have a bit of imagination and when you don’t have massive stars demanding outrageous salaries.
One of the interesting things about Moon’s effects work is that they actually used models for lots of it. This flies in the face of modern filmmaking when even the most mundane things are produced entirely from a computer. So in this day and age it’s unusual to see effects that actually have a weight and tangibility about them. It harks back to films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running and Alien where you actually felt like you could reach in and touch the world that was flashing across the screen.
Something else that is pleasing about Moon is how low-key it is. This isn’t a monster production with a huge cast and loads of explosions. It revolves around one guy doing some tedious work on the surface of the moon.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is an employee for Lunar Industries who lives alone on the surface of the moon. His job is to oversee a bunch of robotic lunar harvesters that are gathering Helium 3, a source of fuel that has solved the energy crisis on Earth. It’s mind numbing work and work that he does on his own. He only has a robot called GERTY for company and his contract is three years long. Therefore it’s not surprising that his mental well being has deteriorated considerably.
As Sam’s contract gets closer and closer to expiring, he begins to see things. At one point he sees a girl sitting in his favourite chair. And then later he imagines he’s making love to his wife. At this point the film kind of feels like Solaris.
Adding to the weirdness is the fact that Sam crashes his lunar rover into one of the harvesters and is then rescued by…himself. At this point the film could really feel like Solaris but a solid explanation is quickly given. The Sam who crashed and the Sam who woke up in the base and then rescued the first Sam, are both clones.
And so what you have is a kind of spin on the mysterious company that featured in the Alien films. You have a company that lies and kills to increase profits. And what better place to cheat and steal than on the Moon? Who’s ever going to know?
The conspiracy to keep the truth from Sam, that he’s a clone of a real person, extends to keeping a satellite link permanently broken. This means that Sam never has any live interaction with anyone on Earth. It also means that he never gets to talk to his wife – he only gets video messages from her. And so therefore, as you can imagine, it’s a bit of a pisser when he eventually finds out that his wife is dead and that the real Sam Bell is alive and well on Earth.
One of the strengths and weaknesses of Moon is Sam Rockwell. As the first Sam, a clone that is slowly falling apart both mentally and physically, he occasionally falls into Rockwell’s familiar tics – wild-eyed mania. But as the second clone, he exudes strength and arrogance. There aren’t any of the usual Rockwell theatrics.
But even though Rockwell does occasionally tread familiar ground with some of his rants, it’s impressive that he manages to hold the film together on his own, because aside from GERTY (who’s voiced by Kevin Spacey), he’s the only performer in this film. Everything rests on his shoulders. If only he could express anger and mental instability without resorting to his Chuck Barris shtick, it would show considerable growth as an actor.
The film’s only other weakness is the ending. You see, both of the Sams find out that they’re clones with a three year lifespan and that they’ll never get a chance to go home. They have no home. It’s all a lie. They also find out that a ‘rescue’ team is arriving soon to supposedly repair a broken harvester. But in reality it’s an execution squad. Despite this, the second Sam puts himself into a pod that is used to send Helium 3 back to Earth and fires himself back to the blue planet. We then find out that because this clone has suddenly landed, LUNAR’s dodgy business practises have been revealed and their share price has fallen. Somehow this is just a little too neat for me. I mean, I know most companies are comprised of colossal fuck ups that couldn’t keep a secret if they tried, but I don’t have faith that the little man will eventually triumph over the corporations. And so I think the ending is an unrealistic ray of light in a believably bleak movie.
But despite this, Moon is a marvellous film. It’s an old fashioned science fiction film that shows that man’s biggest conflict will always be with himself. And there’s also man’s relationship with technology. In the recent past we worried that robots or computers would make us obsolete. These days the concern is that we’ll be used for spare parts or engineered to someone’s specifications.
A small detail that I loved was that Sam’s alarm clock woke him up with Chesney Hawke’s ‘The One and Only’. Despite the obvious amusement factor of this man using a bemoled teenage heartthrob with helmet hair as his wake up call, it’s also pleasantly subversive. This man isn’t the one and only. He’s company product. And that’s what we’ll need to avoid if we’re hold on to our humanity.