Review: Space a misnomer in claustrophobic ‘Moon’
September 3, 2009
ASPEN – “Moon,” a futuristic sci-fi that marks the debut for British director Duncan Jones, is a claustrophobic experience.
Virtually all of the film takes place in a space station on the moon, where a crew of one man (more on this later) and one robot saves Earth by supplying humanity with enough helium-3 to solve the planet’s energy problems. The station is all-white, and very tight: Astronaut Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell, sleeps in a tiny little cot; he walks back and forth through the same spaces; he often finds reason to fold himself into small quarters. On those occasions when he ventures outside, it’s even worse: He’s in a spacesuit, tucked into a cramped space vehicle.
The sense of tightness extends beyond physical space. The robot, GERTY (voiced with smug menace by the king of smug, Kevin Spacey), surrounds Sam and watches his every move.
Sam has been locked into a three-year contract to work on the moon, adding a temporal dimension to his confinement. And apart from GERTY, the video messages from his wife, Tess (Dominique McElligott, whom Sam – nor the filmgoer – sees nearly enough of), and a few looong-distance interactions with his bosses, there is monophobia – fear of being alone – to go with the claustrophobia and agoraphobia. “Moon” is a clear homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I found myself in mind even more of another Kubrick film, “The Shining.”
Like Jack Torrance in “The Shining,” Sam Bell may be losing it from the isolation, the constant hounding of GERTY. He’s edgy, seeing things, clumsy. Out on an inspection of the helium machinery, he crashes the vehicle. When he awakes, he finds he is no longer alone: Another Sam Bell has appeared, and this one is not necessarily as nice as the original. The fuel business, it appears, is itself fueled by an extensive cloning operation.
Perhaps the most closed-in aspect of “Moon” is in the realm of ideas. Lots of them are raised, or hinted at. But the film gets effectively sealed off with whatever Sam sees, hears and feels, so while there is a big world out there to explore, it’s all in our distant peripheral vision.
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The various helium machines are Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Sam’s daughter is named Eve. That’s as far as the religious allegory goes. There is a “Matrix”-like aspect here, about how we’re all merely plugged into the machine, doing the machine’s bidding and given the illusion of free will. But Sam, in disintegration mode, doesn’t discover much about that, so neither do we. It’s more a loose strand than a story line.
What we’re left with is atmosphere, and unlike the moon itself, “Moon” has an abundance. Start with Clint Mansell, whose minimalist soundtrack suggests Sam’s mood, the lunar surface, the icy isolation, the creepy relationship between Sam and GERTY. (The songs that appear add a welcome touch of humor: “Walking on Sunshine,” and “One and Only,” whose lyrics – “I am the one and only,” “I’m not the same as all the rest” – are the background to Sam’s meeting his clone.) And in the very lack of a clear plot, “Moon” creates exactly what it might be shooting for: a vision of the future that is purposefully disorienting and unclear, enough so that we never grasp the horror we should be feeling.