Retrospective: Moon (2009)


Harry Riedl is a film enthusiast from West London and this begins a series of retrospective reviews on his favourite cult classics.

For my second retrospective, I have decided to look at Moon, Duncan Jones’ first feature film. A quite recent retrospective, but with the DVD launch of his second movie, Source Code, it seems a good time to look at his fascinating directorial debut. Moon is a very interesting film, as many may argue it’s the first ‘proper’ science fiction movie for quite a while, particularly within the genre of ‘Hard sci-fi’.

Moon begins by playing an advertisement for a fantastic company, which has solved the world’s power problems with the simple method of mining on the Moon. Much like District 9, the viewer immediately gets the impression that a universe has been created. The advert feels completely plausible and authentic, appearing like an commercial for any oil company (a little aside, Duncan Jones made his name in advertising like another doyen of science fiction movies, Ridley Scott). The film then moves to the moon’s base and we meet the movie’s only two characters: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) and his robotic companion GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

Moon is very clearly inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey, most evidently by the clean white surfaces (interestingly for anyone interested in architecture, the outside is a very brutalist design, rather unlike what you would imagine from the inside). In many ways this movie is a tribute to many of the more obscure science fiction movies from the 1970s. You can spot references to Silent Running in the way Sam talks to his plants, his only living companions. Solaris is another film clearly referenced, by using the figure of his wife and child as his tether to sanity. Contact with his family is very limited, as he cannot speak to them because the satellite to earth is down, but can only receive messages with delay. In addition, the visions he sees with increasing frequency feels very similar to Solaris as Sam struggles to cope with his separation from his family.

The film’s real moment of conflict occurs while Sam is inspecting the four giant combine moon harvesters and performing the only action his robot can’t do. Sam crashes his vehicle, leaving him and the audience to believe he died a slow death in the moon truck. The film then snaps to him waking up on a medical bed being told he had an accident, which was not the same accident that we just saw.

Sam seems much livelier after the accident and this is what creates the compelling mystery of the movie: who is trustworthy, especially when Sam returns to the damaged combine and finds an injured duplicate of himself.

The core of the movie concerns how you might react after two years of complete isolation and the discovery of a clone of yourself. The role of GERTY is another compelling aspect of the movie as those who remember 2001 will recall how reminiscent he seems to HAL (and even has his own ‘I can’t let you do that, Dave’ moment). He has mixed feelings as he has a fondness for his human and shows a sympathetic understanding to the best of his abilities even thought he actively deceives Sam. The movie acts as a journey of discovery, both physically and mentally that explores every nook and cranny of its dark secrets as they try to discover themselves.

The music and the long silences really emphasize the isolation and loneliness of the film.  Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is one of the key features to the movie’s success, playing modern classical music which is quite similar to Phillip Glass with Sc-Fi sound elements and particularly moving piano work. The set creates such a plausible sense of place. All the interior and computer equipment have a new, clean look but the space suits have a particularity worn appearance. At just $5m, it’s an extremely low budget sci-fi movie. The fact it uses very little CGI means that the sets and models help give it a palpable sense of weight, rather than the slight floatiness that CGI provides.

Moon is one of my all time favourite movies. A small budget sci-fi and even though it borrows the look and style of classic movies, it’s a modern classic in its own right and will remain a classic long after the latest Transformers is officially accepted to be redundant. It fabulously uses its science fiction to tell us about ourselves and our reactions to discovering the unknown. Science fiction can be about so much more than big things exploding and Moon proves how it can express philosophical thoughts of reality and the nature of isolation.

Article written by Harry Riedl

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