Duncan Jones’ 2009 debut film, Moon, is a chilling science fiction thriller filled with isolation and insanity.
What would happen if you had to live in isolation? A lifetime of routine, accompanied by just one companion, a robot who you can’t be sure is really looking out for your best interests; it’s easy to imagine that you might start to go crazy.
Moon imagines this exact reality, but with a surprising sci-fi twist that elevates the film beyond just being a psychological thriller, turning it into a wholly effective imagination of science fiction.
As imagined by Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie, it’s worth mentioning), life on the moon is repetitive, filled with routine, work, and the occasional messages from home. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) lives this reality on a mining station on the dark side of the moon; his only companion is GERTY, a robot who translates emotion with very basic emoticons, and is voiced (quite chillingly) by Kevin Spacey. One day, Sam suffers from hallucinations (he’s going a little bit stir crazy) and crashes his lunar rover; when he wakes up, he’s surprised to find that there’s another Sam on the moon, and also that he himself is starting to look quite sickly.
Without getting into too much of the detail of this film, Moon weaves a tight knot of story; it’s a film that fits quite neatly together, tethered as it is by the borderline unhinged performance of Sam Rockwell. Rockwell is magnetic here, a delight to watch, both in moments of joy and in moments of despair. Although it’s a bleak watch, Rockwell carries the viewer with enough levity to get them through the film without too much gritting of teeth.
Moon is scored by Clint Mansell, and his soundtrack here is terrific; in fact, it’s a stirring listen even in isolation from the film. Again, this is a bleak film but the soundtrack here does well to underscore the film without pulling it too far into a dark direction. Mansell has long established himself as one of the better composers in film, and Moon is no exception.
Moon is a tight 97 minutes, in and out without much fat on its bones; there are few debut films this confident, with this kind of clarity of vision, and with this sheer imagination and scope, and it’s easy to see why Jones has been identified as a top up-and-coming talent. Although I found his follow-up, Source Code to be fairly muddled (if overall likable), and his big-budget attempt at a Warcraft adaptation to be largely a swing and a miss, I still greatly look forward to his next film, Mute, which is said to be a spiritual sequel to Moon.