July 21st: Ground Control to Major Sam


148. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)

Sam Bell is the lone operative of an isolated Helium3 mining facility on the moon with only the base computer, GERTY, for company. He’s two weeks from the end of his three-year contract and looking forward to going home to see his wife and daughter. But Sam starts to see things, he starts getting distracted and confused which leads to an accident on the surface. When Sam wakes up he finds himself back in the base with another person. It’s another Sam, younger and more cocksure but still the same Sam. The two of them are unsure of what is happening and as they try to uncover what is happening things begin to take a sinister turn.

I’ll confidently say that the debut film from Duncan Jones is already a slice of vintage Science fiction. The influences are made pretty clear but they never seem derivative, they remain honest and effective which seems to me to be the key to good genre film-making. I could go on about these influences for a page and a half but I’ll stick to the most important to say what I want. There are hints of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the cold and slightly condescending voice of Kevin Spacey for GERTY as well as with the simple white interiors of the base, but the key themes echo from the late 70s/early 80s era of science fiction, one that sits particularly well in my nostalgia receptors. The Alien films, particularly Ridley Scott’s original film, used the backdrop of interstellar corporations as the true enemy of piece, the monster was merely the commodity they wished to appropriate. This idea is reprised in Moon to great effect and it seems especially pertinent in a time of financial pressure as people struggle to reconcile the immense profits of multinational corporations and their inability to find work. It’s a kind of criticism that has become absent in mainstream cinema, probably due to the increasingly symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and the corporations, but it was a staple of the cynical 70s attitude. It’s pleasing that Moon has a low enough budget that it’s able to continue this kind of admirable ‘stick it to the man’ attitude.

This corporate insidiousness is also part of Moon’s other major influence Blade Runner, but the relationship goes further than that. Moon is a rumination on what it is to be human and to what extent memories qualify the human experience. It’s a theme that is repeatedly found in the works of Philip K. Dick and one that seems to be best served by science fiction. This forms the emotional core of Moon as the two Sam’s come to terms with the possibility that they are not really Sam, the possibility that the accumulated memories and feelings that they have are not really their own. It’s a complex problem, and like Blade Runner no easy answers are put forward because none of them would be appropriate or genuine.

I could ramble on but let me finish by crediting the excellent moody score by Clint Mansell and not one, but two, fine performances from Sam Rockwell. There’s something to be said for the use of small scale models instead of CGI for the moon surface sequences. Obviously it was a budgetary influence in making this decision but it’s one that has paid a dividend in maintaining the overall aesthetic of the film. Moon is an assured and mature piece of work, go and see it if you can.

2 thoughts on “July 21st: Ground Control to Major Sam”

  1. I finally got round to seeing it last night, and I agree with everything you wrote.

    Gerty was great for the 2001 homage-cum-parody; the big smiley had me chuckling a few times.

    The music guy’s quite obviously cottoned on that Trent Reznor has an unerring ability to produce music which Hollywood loves, and for any genre or mood – during the opening I was wondering why I didn’t recognise what was clearly a NIN track but oh, it’s not.

    So well done that man. Well done everyone involved; I’ll look be forward to a BluRay release.

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