Moon (2009)

Astronaut Sam Bell logs miles on a treadmill, wearing a t-shirt that reads "Wake me when it's quitting time." It's one of many inside jokes and telling clues in Moon, a compact, spare movie about a man on the moon. Sam (Sam Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three year stint as the sole human occupant of a remote mining operation on the far side of the moon. (Astronomers will quibble because Sam can see Earth from there, which, if I know my astronomy, can't be done from way yonder on the moon.) The station is outfitted with many amusements, but Sam's only companion is GERTY, a roving computer/robot, which speaks in the monotonous, deadpan voice of Kevin Spacey and flashes vaguely inappropriate emoticons on a small screen.

GERTY's kinship with HAL, the homicidal computer in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is both clear and ambiguous -- GERTY is apparently friendlier than HAL, but the association is meant to raise warning flags. 2001 is also clearly a forebear of Moon, but where the former was ambitious, tedious, intentionally obscure, and, if you ask me, unbearably dull (it's a movie I have less and less patience for every time I see it), Moon is sprightly and engaging, if far less ambitious. (Moon also calls to mind Douglas Trumbull's terrific film *Silent Running*, both in its ecological theme and in its exploration of the isolation of space and the companionship of robots.)

Rather than being weighed down by ponderousness, Moon suffers more from the weightlessness of brevity. There are several interesting and complex ideas explored in Moon, including science fiction mainstays: human cloning, exploitation, personal identity, human and machine consciousness, freedom, mortality, and fatalism. Any one of them would have been enough for a single movie, so none are explored with as much depth as they might have been. Nonetheless, Moon is satisfying and intriguing.

While Sam anticipates leaving the Moon and seeing the wife and child he left behind on Earth, odd things begin to happen. His physical body starts to deteriorate, and a mysterious replacement worker suddenly appears at the mining station. Not much can be said about Sam's replacement that wouldn't give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say that he is also portrayed by Sam Rockwell, and the two astronauts are less simpatico than might be expected. Rockwell's performance is strange (as usual) and marvelously rich, funny, melancholy, and poignant, as he portrays two men who are both compatriots and rivals, buddies and enemies. Sam and Sam's replacement are forced together by odd (very odd) circumstances, isolation, and deception. They were never supposed to meet, but having met, they're forced to confront deeply disturbing questions about who they are and why they exist.

Moon is directed by Duncan Jones (heretofore, but surely not henceforth best known as the son of David Bowie), from a story conceived by Jones and scripted by Nathan Parker. They've taken a futuristic scenario and pared it down to an essentially human drama, then pared it down even more into a one-person drama about, primarily, identity, and in particular that ol' philosophical headscratcher about the persistence of identity over time: what makes you the same you that you were yesterday, or a week ago, or three years ago, when you started your long, lonely night shift on the far side of the moon?

Like much of the best science fiction, Moon also explores the complex relationship between man and technology, and the ways that our essential nature may be threatened by the improvements and efficiencies of a streamlined, technologically enhanced existence. Moon also explores the possibility that it's the other way around, and we humans will always infect the machine perfection of our creations with our all too human imperfections. Are there some improvements we (or the wes we think we are) may not survive? Or will we instead leave our indelible mark -- our human crud and hair, and wear and tear, our emotionalism and sentimentality, wherever and whenever we go -- like the footprints we left, and the flag we planted on the once pristine lunar surface?