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Moon Review – Heartfelt SciFi With an Anti-Summer Twist

Moon Review – Heartfelt SciFi With an Anti-Summer Twist” width=”560″/>

Duncan Jones’ Moon posits a world where the energy crisis has been resolved and a deeper, more existential dilemma has taken hold. Like a lot of great scifi, it tells a small, self-contained story while hinting at something far larger and more troubling. Exciting, original, and surprisingly moving, Moon is science fiction both brainy and heartfelt. And it’s one of the best movies of the year.

Though I generally recommend watching movies with minimal foreknowledge, going into Moon tabula rasa is absolutely vital. What it’s “about” is one of its key surprises. That makes it a difficult movie to both market and to review — to give away the central plot hook would betray your experience. All I can fairly divulge is the set-up: In the future, man mines the moon for energy contained under its rocks in the form of a substance called “Helium 3.” Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is finishing up a three-year stint at a Helium 3 mining station — a monastic existence in comfortable, gleaming-white quarters with only a cheerful robot named Gerty (who is voiced by Kevin Spacey and looks like an X-ray machine) for company. With the end finally in sight, Sam begins to get headaches and see visions.

What happens then is brilliant in a few ways. The answer to the movie’s main question — who exactly is Sam, and what is he really doing on the moon? — is deep, fascinating, and beautifully thought-through. The initial revelation provokes a flurry of “but wait” objections (from us and from Sam), each of which is addressed as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Ultimately Moon offers something rare: A coherent vision of the world it inhabits. It doesn’t provide all the answers, but we sense that the answers are there.

The meticulous thought put into Moon doesn’t extend merely to plotting. The movie is set mostly inside Sam’s three-room lunar residence, occasionally venturing onto the dark surface of the moon, and Duncan Jones — a commercial vet and (fun fact!) David Bowie’s son — makes the most of his locations on a miniscule budget. The station is gleaming white and appropriately futuristic, but it isn’t sterile — it feels lived-in, and Jones makes great use of shadows. And the moon feels alien, cold and lonely. You could have spent untold millions creating these settings, but a simple set and some miniatures (and, probably, a little economical CGI) turn out to be just about perfect.

Most importantly, Moon is a thematic tour-de-force, and here I must tread carefully to avoid revealing too much. First, the movie deliberately toys with the notions of technological menace we are accustomed to seeing in science fiction — we’re used to powerful computer software spinning out of control and turning against its masters, for example, but here we get a robot that opts for the most benign interpretation of its ambiguous programming. (Giving Gerty a solitary LED display that indicates his “state of mind” via a smiley-face, by the way, was pure genius.) Nor does the danger come from mankind’s hugely ambitious solution for the energy shortage. It seems that in this future, most of our epic technological advances actually work. The earth — which we glimpse just briefly — looks blue and peaceful in the distance. We’ve defied the doomsaying of the environmentalists; we’re still here.

But if, in Moon‘s future, we’ve stopped thoughtlessly stripping the Earth of its resources, we’ve begun another, more disturbing kind of plunder. On one level, Moon is a fundamentally conservative movie, urging us to consider moral quandaries before gallivanting off in certain scientific directions. On another, it’s oddly anti-corporate, suggesting that even if a company is in a business that is harmless and good, the profit motive will find ways to corrupt. I don’t really agree with the latter thesis, but it’s food for thought, delivered without preaching or histrionics.

I haven’t even mentioned Sam Rockwell’s career-best performance (high praise if you’re familiar with his career), or Clint Mansell’s typically gorgeous, haunting score. And in my eagerness to discuss the movie’s heady ambitions, I’ve given short shrift to Sam Bell himself, who ends up a heartbreaking figure in ways I probably shouldn’t describe anyway. Like most everything else in Moon, these things are worth talking about. How wonderful to have a “summer movie” that merits a conversation.

To get an alternate movie review of Moon, go to AMC Filmcritic.com

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