Sometimes it’s not so much what happens in a story, it’s how what happens is told. So even if I can quickly figure out what is going to happen, I try to let that go and let the story reveal its twists on its own terms. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially when a story is full of unlikable or one-dimensional characters (Grey’s Anatomy, I am looking at you), but it is a principle I try and maintain.
Thus, what bothers me about Duncan Jones’s debut film, Moon, isn’t that I figured out at the end of the first act what was going to happen, but rather that as the events unfold, the director fails to make the issues raised resonate in any but the most superficial way. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t like the film, which is fairly haunting and reminiscent of previous films in the sci-fi genre, just that I was a bit disappointed with a film that has gotten so much praise from so many quarters.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the only worker manning a lunar outpost where he manages a large, mostly automated mining operation that provides relief from the energy crisis that strikes the Earth at an unspecified future time. He lives with a friendly, super intelligent computer named GERTY (voice of Kevin Spacey), who speaks in a tone that instantly reminds one of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. He is approaching the end of his three year stint, excited to go back home and reunite with his wife and young daughter. He hasn’t been able to communicate with them in anything other than recordings due to a failure in the satellite.
Bell has an excellent work ethic and makes sure his job is done correctly, yet he is a bit of a slob with his appearance. One day he is involved in an accident while riding in his LEM. He is somehow rescued form the wreckage and awakes in the infirmary with no real memory of the events that transpired. Quickly discerning that GERTY is keeping something from him, forbidding him to leave the compound even when necessary to repair some of the excavation equipment, Bell manages to trick GERTY and leave, only to find the wreckage of his craft with someone inside. Him.
I don’t wish to give away too much of the film, yet I would like to drop one more spoiler likely to be guessable to anyone whose read the previous paragraph anyway: the two men are clones. And it is this revelation, along with the isolation in which Sam has lived for three long years, that raise significant existential issues. But rather than addressing said issues, Jones seems more eager to just move along the story, dropping a line here and there but failing to delve into the really interesting parts of the film. I wasn’t disappointed that I figured out hat was going to happen almost immediately, but that there wasn’t really any additional payoff beyond these revelations when they finally occurred.
All this said, I still enjoyed the film and would recommend it with the above reservations. The intense solitude and Spacey’s voice as the robot are in the best tradition of 2001 and Solaris, and a worthy entry into the subgenre of isolated men in space. Sam Rockwell is also excellent, as two very different men with identical DNA. I just wish that Moon would have been a deeper film, taken an extra ten minutes to really explore issues raised by long term isolation and cloning. Jones is apparently working on another film entitled Mute, which will take place on Earth following the events of Moon with a cameo by Rockwell as Bell. Perhaps we will get some of the depth this story warranted in the follow-up.