Sam Bell has been the sole operator of a helium-3 mining facility on the far side of the moon for three years. Other than the occasional video message from his wife and daughter, Sam’s only companion is the computer who helps him, named GERTY. When Moon begins, Sam has two weeks until his three-year contract is complete and he can go home, but before his time is up, something strange happens. That is just about all I’m going to say about the plot of Moon. You’ll thank me later, if you see it. What I will say is that Moon artfully captures the feel of a classic 1970’s and 1980’s science fiction by eschewing the more popular motifs of giant spaceships, aliens, and guns (lazers), instead focusing on a man, his loneliness, and his humanity.
Aesthetically, the film is stunning. Sam Rockwell is almost the only human face you see during the entire running time of the movie, but he presents so many different faces, and manages to develop his character so well that I never felt fatigued or hoped for a new character. Similarly, although most of the action takes place within the sterile, white, moon base the environment never gets tiring. Duncan Jones, the director and co-writer, balances the cold, white interior of the base with the dark images of the moon and space to create a pervasive sense of isolation. What is striking to me about the tone Jones sets is that it is frightening in the way it expresses loneliness and separation from humanity, while also being incredibly beautiful. Particularly in the shots of the moon’s surface and space, Jones captures a kind of majesty that is haunted by isolation. A few of these shots are purposely marred by the image of machines mining helium-3 from the moon’s surface, suggesting that even the far side of the moon is not safe from corporations who are willing to abuse nature for profit.
While I won’t give any details about the plot, I can say that both my wife and I were very impressed at the way it skirted the danger of relying on “twists” or sudden reveals to hold up the plot. While there are several interesting revelations in the film, our interest was not dependent on whether or not we were surprised. Scifi–mostly bad scifi–can easily follow a kind of Twilight Zone format where the viewer spends the entire movie wanting to find out what the dramatic twist at the end will be and the director spends most of the film trying to tease the viewers without revealing the twist until the last moment. Moon avoids this. It is well-paced, entertaining, and a bit suspenseful.
Aside from how well Moon was made as a piece of cinema, I was pleasantly surprised at how it handled certain themes. One benefit of the science fiction genre is that it tends to naturally engage particular ideas and issues that can be harder to deal with in other genres. The benefits and dangers of technology, the value of human life, and how humanity is defined are common themes throughout science fiction. At times these themes can be a bit heavy handed (robots revolting and taking over the world in the Matrix universe), other times they can seamlessly blend into the plot so that instead of being a vehicle or tool for making a philosophical statement, the story and the issues it deals with are one and the same. Moon, thankfully, is an example of the latter. Jones explores loneliness, companionship, and the value of human life (amongst other themes), but the story he tells is not the superficial thread that ties these issues together. Fundamentally, the story is about a man who is alone on the moon.
And this is perhaps what makes Moon such a great film; Jones never forgets that his characters are important. Even as the story explores the value of human life, Jones affirms this value by caring for his characters as people, rather than foils for his philosophical musings. What this means is that you can enjoy Moon as a good story, and you can also reflect on it and consider what the movie seems to imply about the various issues it brings up. The film is rated R, so be sure to look up its content if you are sensitive about such things. The language is fairly strong and there is some brief male nudity. If you are looking for a good summer film that is well made and thoughtful, Moon is a great choice.