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Moon (2009)

Having an existential crisis can suck. Having an existential crisis when you’re 240,000 miles from home can be even worse. Being virtually alone on the far side of the moon for three years with a computer as your only conversational partner can do that. Just ask Sam Bell.

Moon is a British science fiction film focusing on a man who experiences a personal crisis as he nears the end of his three-year contract mining Helium-3 on the far side of the moon. It was directed by Duncan Jones stars primarily Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. The film was nominated for two BAFTAs in 2010, and Jones won the award for “Outstanding Debut by a British writer, director or producer”.

Lunar Industries employee Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three-year contract to work on a largely automated lunar mining base, overseeing the automated harvesters that extract Helium-3 and periodically sending the filled canisters back to Earth to be used for clean-fusion energy. Chronic communications issues prevent him from establishing live communications with Earth, but his wife, Tess, sends him periodic recorded messages updating him on her life, especially the birth and early years of his daughter Eve. Two weeks before his contract is up, Sam begins to hallucinate, his solitude having caused him to start going mentally sideways. During a routine trip out to collect one of the filled Helium-3 canisters, Sam sees a figure on the lunar surface. Startled, he crashes his rover, managing to get his helmet on before losing consciousness.

He wakes in the infirmary, and the base’s computer, GERTY (Kevin Spacey, channelling Douglas Raines) asks him if he remembers the crash that landed him there. He doesn’t, but Gerty reassures him that this is normal. However, Sam suspects that something is not right when he overhears a live communication between GERTY and Lunar Industries executives, and learns that a rescue team has been dispatched, and GERTY has been instructed not to let him outside. Sam is forced to find his own answers about what is happening at the Lunar Industries base, and what he learns will shake his world to its core…

I was genuinely surprised by this movie. I’d previously seen Sam Rockwell playing psychos or obnoxious twerps, but Moon demonstrates that he is a genuinely skilled dramatic actor in his own right. Like many movies where a single character carries the bulk of the action, Rockwell had his work cut out for him, as the only other characters were GERTY and… himself. Onscreen, he is funny and heartrending in turns, as he tries to come to terms with the truth behind his situation. Spacey’s choice of the HAL 9000 “calm and reasonable” voice was well-done, as it immediately had vintage sci fi fans on their guard, expecting calm sociopathy later even as GERTY seemed to want to help Sam solve his problem. The set design was beautifully sterile, offering beautifully empty lunar vistas and a possible glimpse into near-future mining operations. The story itself unfolded slowly, with a well-paced patience that allowed the audience to get to know and care about Sam Bell, and want to stay right there with him as he came to terms with his own existence on this sterile ball of rock.

If you want a quiet, contemplative hard sci fi film without a lot of action and with a lot of introspection, try Moon. It’s an unexpected treasure that will probably become a long-lasting classic.

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