In the not-so-distant future, the Earth has been depleted of clean, natural resources. It is now powered by Helium-3, which Lunar Industries mines on the far side of the moon. Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole employee supervising the industrial mining station. Approaching the end of his three-year contract, he’s desperate to be reunited with his wife and young daughter back on Earth; a failure with one of the satellites means that he’s been unable to communicate directly with them, relying instead on recorded messages from his wife for some kind of human connection. Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), an AI robot tasked with caring for Sam, is the only company he has in space. Sam’s health seems to be failing rapidly, and while out on a routine check in a lunar vehicle, he suffers an accident, only to wake up back in the station, unable to remember how he got there. Only he’s no longer alone - he finds a mirror image of himself ready to take over the running of the station.
The winner of the Michael Powell award for best new British feature film at this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, Duncan Jones’s independent debut feature is a fascinating and visually stunning sci-fi film that explores the alienation and bitter loneliness of space, as well as the very essence of the human condition. Moon is Jones’s attempt to reverse the course of science fiction cinema, a genre that’s been altered beyond recognition in recent years. Clearly inspired by an earlier generation of films including Silent Running, Outland, and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Jones is vastly more concerned with the genre’s human dimension, eschewing the kind of hyped-up special effects that in recent years have turned sci-fi films into a series of alien-launched missile attacks that inevitably blow up American targets like the White House.
Rockwell’s demanding performance is near perfect; playing two versions of the same character, he imbues both with contrasting traits and emotions. He plays the original Sam Bell as a man who seems to be in terminal decline, physically deteriorating as he gets nearer to his journey home, as if he’s reached his sell-by date, while his doppelgänger is healthy and fit, in the prime of his life. As they struggle to figure out what they’re both doing on the station, their consciousness is awakened; Jones’s characters confront the very nature of their own existence, and the disturbing truth behind the memories of their lives back on Earth.
Shot in high contrast, the gleaming white surfaces of the space station are almost luminescent; the lunar surfaces surrounding the station are cold, dark and chillingly ominous. Filmed in little more than a month, and refreshingly making use of models rather than relying solely on CGI, the picture beautifully captures Jones’s unique vision, both aesthetically and philosophically. Moon is an instant classic of the genre, as well as one of the most impressive and original films to emerge from the UK in years.