Review: Moon (2009)



Duncan Jones
Duncan Jones, Nathan Parker
97 min.
Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey (Voice)
MPAA Rating
R for language

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What begins as a simple science fiction film about the loneliness of life on a moon-based space station becomes a complex examination of future tech and its benefit to society versus the cost of its degradation of human decency.

Moon is Duncan Jones’ (son of legendary musician David Bowie) directorial debut and what a smashing one it is. Sam Bell, played with naivety, charm and malicious good humor by Sam Rockwell, is an employee of Lunar Industries a large tech firm who has obtained rights to extract helium-3, a new and powerful energy source, from the soil and broken rock of the moon’s surface. As part of the operation, they use human workers to monitor and collect the canisters of fuel, employing them for a three-year tour before sending them back home to their families who send regular communication to the planet. Sam’s only companionship is from an artificial intelligence called GERTY voiced by Oscar winner Kevin Spacey.

After Sam collides with one of the massiave harvesters on the surface, he awakes in the medical bay of the facility and begins to question how he managed to make it back and why he’s beginning to lose control. As the film clicks along, we slowly come to the same realization as Sam that he is not the original Sam Bell, but a clone. The simulacrum is imperfect as it degrades towards the end of its three-year cycle and is thus replaced automatically at the end of that timeframe. There are other revelations in the film, but those are more engaging if left to the viewer to observe.

Rockwell’s riveting performance supports the film in a way that I don’t think many actors could. He doesn’t make the film about him even if he is the protagonist. It’s about the material in which he’s thrust. That material, written by Jones and fellow screenwriter Nathan Parker, is filled with complex detail revealed methodically and effectively as the film moves on. Many screenwriters would ignore the slow build and give as much information as they could in the first half of the film but here we get just as much information in the latter half as we do the first, which may frustrate some who’ve grown accustomed to standard Hollywood structure.

Jones’ ability with the material is unquestionable and I almost wish I had seen this film before 2011’s Source Code. I could have witnessed a wonderful director grow with his material. Regardless of the order, both films exemplify the genre in ways that Hollywood has seldom been able to. These are complex films whose central premise begs the audience to question the validity of technology when it strips from humans their rights to live, die, grow and experience. Whereas Source Code questions the scientific merit of a technology that unnaturally manipulates the human body for noble, yet selfish purposes. Moon follows a similar path asking the audience to reason whether science controlling and reworking natural processes to benefit and support human civilization is truly meritorious when the methods used create moral gray areas. Even though a clone is not a naturally occurring being, does it not have the ability to think and rationalize? Are we required to give the same rights and responsibilities to these creations even if they aren’t the original?

Science fiction has been peppered with these moral questions for decades. It’s the nature of the genre to explore how technology, even when used to make our lives easier, affects our perception of what is right and what is wrong. Where does sentience begin and end? Do we determine which entities should have equal protection under the law and which are simply property. Moon effectively handles these complex ideas, forcing the audience to analyze its own use of technology and decide whether the convenience of some device is worth the betrayal of our personal sensibilities. Does an entity that has the capability of feeling pain deserve our protection and compassion or, because in this situation it’s merely a scientifically-crafted simulacrum and not naturally born creature, are we exempted from having to feel anything for it?

As technology becomes more powerful and science begins to be able to create life without being bounded by nature, these questions are going to become more important. Moon may not reflect a concept available in the near-future, but there has never been a better time to discuss the moral implications of the events of the film. We’ll be better prepared in the eventuality it should occur if we think about it now. When it takes societies decades to adapt to new experiences, the more time we have to think about these ideas, the more able we’ll be at confidently declaring that compassion should not be reserved only for that which we perceive as natural. Compassion should be doled out even to those people and objects and creatures that we personally or philosophically reject. We cannot allow our misperceptions, frustration or lack of understanding prevent us from accepting, loving and treating everyone and everything equally.
Review Written
August 17, 2011

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