Inspired by the likes of Silent Running, Moon is a film that relies on a narrative that won’t lead where you expect while also having exquisitely rendered special effects. The debut feature from Duncan Jones who both wrote and directed it, the 90 minute movie comes across in the manner of a serious indie offering despite the surroundings. Instead of a dystopian future we’re in the midst of what seems a boom as it has been discovered that helium 3 is abundant on the Moon and can generate enough fuel to keep things ticking back on Earth. At first you’re wondering why, if this is such an important resource, it’s been left in the hands of a single man on a three year contract. Won’t he go a little crazy?
Sam Bell is that man and he’s played by Sam Rockwell, an actor who is capable of making you believe most anything when it comes to characters chafing at their life. At first it seems like Sam is going a bit crazy when a serious crash renders him unconscious for quite a time. When he wakes up someone else is attending to his work- someone who looks exactly like him and is called Sam Bell. The film rather cleverly leaves you wandering for a while what sort of revelation will explain this seemingly inexplicable phenomena allowing the two Sams to slowly grow to accept each other. When the original Sam discovers something odd about the cryogenic chamber supposed to send them back to Earth the true nature of their situation unfolds. Somehow this reveal has managed not to find its way into my orbit for the ten years since the film came out so in case there’s anyone similarly unknowing I won’t spoiler it here.
If a movie that largely features the same actor playing against himself sounds like it will be a slow stretch Moon is actually a surprisingly pacey film with frequent lunar excursions outside the white walled white lit moon base environment. I’m not sure how these sequences played on the big screen but on a tv they look fine. Bucking modern trends the various craft are brought to life using models with just a little enhanced CGI and largely look convincingly rendered. The only thing that lets the effects side down slightly are the moon rock fragments shooting out of the miner which have a computerised quality that would probably look even more so in a cinema.
The film relies on Sam Rockwell to define the two identical yet different characters so we’re not confused even though they are dressed differently. The latter Sam is stiff and smart, relying on protocol and rules and showing a childish manner when it comes to sharing. The original Sam is looser, more worried by what’s happening therefore more likely to look for answers. The script never goes with the obvious route of one of them trying to incarcerate, stop or even dispose of the other; instead they are like work colleagues forced together who find a way to co-operate despite their issues. They just look the same as each other!
Sam Rockwell achieves this without showy grandstanding but by emphasising their down to earth characteristics and eventual grudging respect. The narrative also refuses to try and push the viewer into taking sides instead keeping the development steady and sure so we also eventually find respect for both of them too. Its not a movie with a hero / villain dynamic in that sense. At times it has the tone of a stage play albeit one that would be impossible to stage.
To make this believable the special effects used to have the same actor present twice are superb with no sense of any stand ins or perhaps CGI touches (of which I’m sure both must have been used) leading us to assume that Sam Rockwell is really two people! For such a comparatively low budget production the results are remarkable. In terms of its aesthetics, Moon is as low key as its central characters with large wheeled buggies, white walled rooms and large grey plateaus being the default depiction of the Moon in many a production.
The results are absorbing and always intriguing right till the end.
# The first shot of the film includes the subtitle “where are we now?” which four years later would be the title of Duncan Jones’ father David Bowie’s 2013 unexpected comeback single.