Friday, February 25, 2011

Well met by Moon-light

The view from Moon.
As you might imagine, I rarely have time to go to the movies - most of the films I see now I catch late at night, via those little red envelopes from Netflix (curse them for trying to get me to stream!).  This week turned up a genuine gem - Duncan Jones's Moon from 2009, a small-scale throwback to the paranoid SF of the 70's, featuring an equally small-scaled, but quite moving, performance by Sam Rockwell.  The movie takes place on an isolated mining operation on the dark side of (naturally) the moon.  The base's lone occupant Sam (Rockwell) is responsible for mining Helium-3 from the lunar surface - where, actually, it's theorized to be abundant - and shooting it back to Earth for use in the booming nuclear fusion industry (yeah, right).

Sam's at the end of a three-year stint, with only the HAL-like computer "Gerty" (voiced not by Drew Barrymore, which would have been a nice touch, but by Kevin Spacey) alleviating the isolation of his long stay in solitary; to make matters even worse, the live communication link to Earth has been down since who knows when.  And clearly Sam is beginning to show signs of strain; he's prone to rambling discourses to himself, and at one point hallucinates that there's a young girl loose on the base.

While servicing one of the roaming He-3 "harvesters," he has a similar, seeming hallucination - is that another astronaut he sees wandering across the lunar surface?  Distracted, he suffers a crash against the harvester, and passes out - only to seemingly re-awaken back in the base, under orders to never venture outside again.  But why?  What's out there? (SPOILERS AHEAD.)

If Moon seems at first to be prepping for a Solaris-style head trip, it instead settles into a low-key, but absorbing, groove as a kind of Silent Running-meets-Blade Runner thriller - one in which the machines and the replicants turn out to be the heroes, btw. For I suppose it's giving away no surprises at this point to reveal that Sam isn't what he appears to be; he's a clone - the latest, apparently, of many that "the company" has used to maintain its isolated moonbase. Once these corporate overlords get wind of Sam's discoveries, however, they announced a "rescue mission" is on its way - one that the "Sams" realize is more like a search-and-destroy mission.

From then on, Moon only lightly touches on the themes it seems to have raised regarding the humanity of clones - although it does grow steadily more affecting, as the Sams realize that everything about them (their memories, their ideas, even their "relationships" back home) has been implanted by the company.  I felt, in fact, that the movie could have pushed a little harder on this most resonant of its themes - that all of us today depend on corporations for our identities.  Still, I was happy to settle for the variant on The Great Escape that Moon became, as the Sams attempt to ingeniously elude their corporate fate.  I don't want to overrate this worthy little project - it's essentially a good first feature (by the talented Duncan Jones).  But it's certainly worth catching on Netflix.  And the fact that it was ignored by the Oscars almost feels like a seal of approval (and another reason to ignore that silly telecast).

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