Sunday, July 19, 2009

Going Down the Rabbit Hole - Moon (2009)

Isolation and fear, when used correctly, can create some of the most haunting scenarios ever put to film. John Carpenter's The Thing, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Steven Soderbergh's Solaris(it's more centered around human drama than Tarkovski's version), and even Barry Levinson's Sphere all come to mind. When there's nowhere to run to, what are you going to do? Moon touches on this theme; Sam Bell(Sam Rockwell) is a 1-man crew scheduled to run an energy mining operation on the moon for 3 years. I'd call that sufficiently isolated, which is the commonality Moon shares with The Thing and The Shining. But where it differs is in the area of fear. The kind of fear on display here is partly that of the unknown, and partly that of yourself. How can you trust your own mind for a grossly extended period of time in a foreign and desolate landscape? I think these are the central themes at the beginning of the film, and they expand from there. To talk more in-depth about plot points would be criminal for this kind of story, so vagaries are all you're going to get.

This is also, hands-down, Sam Rockwell's best performance. He had some of the same stunned desperation in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but that level is kept throughout all 97 minutes of Moon. Nothing really goes right for Sam the whole time we're watching him, and some of that fear I talked about earlier lies in the fact that nothing good can ultimately come of the situation he's in. Something might be able to be salvaged, but that's about it. Add to his isolation a wife and newborn daughter back on Earth and one could understand how difficult a mission like Sam's would be to handle. The scope and meaning of Sam's predicament drastically changes at a certain point in the film, but alas, as it usually goes with me, that's all I can say. I can't break my own spoiler law, for fear of self-punishment.

Nobody to play with.

So what else can I talk about, then? Location is everything, and much like the atmosphere in The Thing, it's a character in-and-of itself in Moon. It acts as a constant, lifeless enemy, bearing down on Sam until his contract is up, which is 2 weeks away when the film opens. Apparently, a lot of the outside shots were done with models, but I had no clue. The only thing I took away from his surroundings was a striking, bleak loneliness. You might say to yourself, "Just wait out the 2 weeks; if I had to, I could do it." Maybe, but when your mind goes, it could be 2 minutes and it wouldn't make any difference. Regardless, the situation changes when an outside force is made known to Sam after he accidentally crashes his rover into a piece of machinery. From that point on, the story goes off in a different direction, and all I can say is that the door is opened for a whole range of emotions and thoughts you probably weren't expecting.

Cool for a vacation. Not for 3 years.

The short version: I love the story. An original, dark, realistic tale of hard Sci-Fi doesn't come around very often these days, and the way it was handled places Duncan Jones on my list of directors to watch for. He nailed everything possible with Moon, and it's one of those films that gets better with every successive viewing. I've only seen it once, but I know that I'll learn and uncover things I didn't notice before every time I watch it. That's the mark of a great storyteller, and I hope he takes the genre forward by reigning it back in. By that, I mean making Sci-Fi like it used to be. Robert Wise, Stanley Kubrick, Byron Haskin, and hell, even George Lucas before he became an ass all created great works. Science Fiction was all about the people, and it used the genre as a backdrop. Jones understands this, and it's why Moon deserves every praise I give it.

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