Moon (2009): A Sci. Fi. Exploration of Self and Identity

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This is a great film, which is saying something considering that it is mostly a one person performance with the only real addition being Kevin Spacey as the voice of the robot GERDY. In that way this film could have easily been a flop. It takes an amazing actor, of which I discovered Sam Rockwell is, to carry a film beyond cinematography and music.

“Moon” was directed by Duncan Jones, who also wrote the story. The screenplay was by Nathan Parker and the producers were Stuart Fenegan and Trudie Styler.

This review does contain SPOILERS, so be warned. The point of this movie is in the twist and the reveal so I can’t review this movie and do it justice without talking about that reveal.

The story involves the character of Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) who has been living for years on the Lunar Base run by the corporation of Lunar Industries who provides an alternate fuel source of Helium-3 which is mined from the base that Sam and the robot GERDY run. Sam’s contract is almost up and he can return home to his wife and daughter. The story unfolds from there as all is not as it appears to be on the station.

The Pros: The Premise – The idea of a man alone with a robot mining resources on the Moon is very cool and very high concept science fiction. It gets even more high concept when we learn this has been going on for years and that the person who we think is just one person is in fact many and has been many clones of the same individual, with slight different genetic variations.

The Tone – The tone of the film is dark and introspective, you can feel claustrophobic sometimes in certain scenes and and Sam Rockwell’s performance is so subtle that it’s easy to see the things from the characters’ points of view and what each of them is going through and what it means on an individual level as well as the societal level of some of the messages explored.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack is also very introspective and does a great job capturing the desolation of the moon, and the hope or despair characters feel. It’s Clint Mansell so I wouldn’t expect any less. The guy is a genius and one of my favorite composers.

The Cinematography – Visually, this film is stunning. It feels like one is actually on the moon during it and the base feels lived in and real, with an element threat to it and leaves you guessing at certain times as the mystery unfolds.

Sam1 – I’m going to call the first Sam we meet, Sam1, he is similar to the past Sam’s but some of the things that set him apart are an extreme attachment to the family he believes he has, a love of life as seen by his caring and talking his plants and in how when he is sick he chooses to help Sam2 escape, partially because he knows he himself is dying but also because he’s grown fond of the one other connection on the station who isn’t GERTY or false memories. He is the most attached to those memories and breaks down after GERTY tells him the memories are implanted and when he talks to “his” daughter and hear’s his own voice, the voice of the original Sam calling to her on the other line. It is at that point he gives up, knowing he is already dying and wants to give Sam2 a chance. He has Sam2 bring him back to where he crashed which is what happened when Sam2 was activated since Sam1 was believed to be dead.

Sam2 – Sam2 is more of a jock in personality. He’s more aggressive, is usually working out and active and is less likely to take GERTY’s advice to rest. He is also more suspicious as he is the one who discovers Sam1 trapped and learns that central is sending a team to kill them so that word doesn’t get out about the Clone program. He is also empathetic though and he is the one trying to help Sam1 get out until Sam1 convinces him to let him die and that he should be the one who escapes and tells the world what’s going on.

GERTY – GERTY is a pretty awesome AI voiced by Kevin Spacey. His whole programming is to protect Sam until Sam fulfills his contract. We learn that his applies to all Sams that are created and he even goes as far as to let Sam2 who escapes to wipe his memory so that he can escape the Moon safely without being killed by the forces Lunar Corporation sent. We never know if he makes choices beyond his programming or if he is just like Baymax fulfilling his programming but his letting Sam2 wipe his memory when he didn’t have to showed that there was more going on. He chose, even if it was within the parameters of his programming to save Sam and help him escape. If that doesn’t make him sentient, than he is at least getting there or near sentient. Also, he has a great design as he has a screen that moves around the station and communicates in emoticon faces as well as having lots of arms to help with the work the station needs or helping the Sams recover and do tasks.

Sam Rockwell – Sam Rockwell plays so many different versions of Sam Bell in this film, and in all he does a great job. Sam1 and Sam2 get the most exploration but we see others when Sam1 pulls up the video of the past clones and history on the station after GERTY accesses the memory banks with the password. Sam is truly a master at the craft as every person he was felt like a unique individual, yet similar enough that you knew they were clones. This is something that very few actors can pull off and after this film I have to consider Rockwell to be one of the best.

The Message – The core point that this film captures is that we are more than our memories. We are our choices and personality and as long as we are aware of our own existance and striving for survival we are worthy of life. The movie ends with Sam2 revealing the Lunar Corporations wrongs to the world (all the past Sams who have died and been used to the Corporations own ends) and it ends with people having the discussion the movie begins. Is a clone as much of a human being worthy of rights as any other human being? I believe and the movie believes that the answer is, “Yes.” No human should be used like a slave, we see the human cost of people getting cheap energy.

Okay: Sam’s Wife and Daughter – These two never felt like wholly realized characters. I think part of this might be purposeful as the Clones are having old memories related to the wife and we don’t have enough time to talk with the daughter to really get to know her. I’m not putting this as a con as it helps the clones separate themselves from the original person they were cloned from. It is the fact that they can’t connect that helps them create their own identity beyond the memories of another.

This is an amazing film and one of my favorites. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack and the cinematography create beautiful scenes and Kevin Spacey’s and especially Sam Rockwell’s performances are so deep and layered that it is hard not appreciate how great they are as actors. Their characters are real and the struggles matter as well as giving us a great “So what?” No one deserves to be slave and we shouldn’t create slaves through cloning. If sentient life is created it deserves just as much respect as us, as it is us, just born different. If you like a dark film, that ends with hope and has an amazing point…check this film out. I know this film has me interested in any other work Duncan Jones has done.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Near perfect, only thing that brings it down are the side human characters who don’t feel like real people.

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