Year of Release: 2009
Date Viewed: December 2nd, 2010
MPAA Rating: R
Outer space is a quiet place. Especially if you're working there all alone.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole human employee for Lunar Industries, leading supplier of Earth's energy. He has spent the last three years of his life harvesting energy from Earth's moon and sending it to the planet. He has had no human contact save for a few indirect messages from his wife and child back home. Sam's only readily available companion is a highly advanced robot named GERTY (voice of Kevin Spacey), whose only role is to preserve Sam's life. This is a movie about limitations, in case you haven't caught on to that yet. Even the movie's budget is true to that theme.
Sam's three year labor contract is almost set to expire. It appears to be perfect timing. His physical health is starting to deteriorate and hallucinations are affecting his emotional health.
Sam's routine life has turned into a game of deciphering the real from the absurd; adjectives more closely connected than he could have ever expected. An accident during a harvest session causes him to lose consciousness then wake up bruised and fatigued in his quarters. GERTY's mobility is limited to the interior of the station, so only a human could have saved his life. Sure enough, Sam soon comes face to face with his rescuer. Another Sam Bell. Is this a hallucination or has Sam been somehow cloned and for what purpose?
Isolated as far away from home as humanly possible, Sam grows more and more desperate to return to civilization. The movie explores human reaction to being powerless and abandoned. Even now that Sam finally has some human contact, no satisfaction comes with it. Living with a clone is practically the same as living alone.
With loneliness comes fear. And with fear comes paranoia. Sam eventually finds himself reluctant to trust GERTY, his employer and even himself. As a viewer, I found myself unable to trust what my own eyes were seeing. That's often the fault of a movie being manipulative. But Moon plays fair. There are enough clear cut situations to follow what is going on and just enough ambiguity to draw your own conclusions. It wouldn't hurt to watch this film more than once.
Moon's biggest flaw may be that a little too much is given away too soon. Although it remains a nail-biting tale up to the very end, the results may have been even more satisfying if the story had been just a little more patient.
The mechanical character GERTY is similar to HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a little artificial personality thrown in. Although GERTY is a machine made to carry out orders, his programming can be manipulated well enough for it to be mistaken for compassion. Unlike HAL, GERTY's mission is to keep his human companions alive by any necessary means. To make this character work, GERTY's voice had to remain monotone and hold a permanent concern at the same time. Easier said than done. Thank goodness the charisma of Kevin Spacey was available to save the day.
But Spacey's work was only half of what was needed to hold this "fighting against the limits" movie together. The rest was in Sam Rockwell's hands. Practically a one man show, Rockwell successfully wins over audience sympathy without overacting. Even though he only plays one character, the Sam clones needed to be different in order to represent their respective states of mind. The healthier version acts confident and refreshed. The weaker version seems like he could fall over at any moment. Immersing himself into the character was not an option for Rockwell, because his character was intentionally inconsistent.
Moon turned out to be one of the nicest surprises of the past year. The non-reputable distributor was probably what robbed the movie from deserved mainstream glory. Science Fiction fans will not want to miss this one. It's also a great film for devotees of thinking thrillers; the kind that probably won't leave a headache in the morning.