A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 171 – Moon (2009)

Moon (2009)

I’m not rightly sure I how I can review this movie. If you’ve seen it, perhaps you understand my troubles. If not, I will warn you that I’m not sure I’ll be able to steer entirely clear of spoilers. The plot of the movie is the unraveling of one big twist. It’s a mystery and an excellently used gimmick. Where Memento’s gimmick and mystery were inextricably twined, Moon’s are fused. And so I will try. I promise. But I can’t make any guarantees and it’s entirely possible I’ll end up accidentally giving away too much and you’ll put the pieces together and figure it out.

The literal story of the movie involves Sam Bell, an employee of Lunar Industries, which mines the moon for helium 3, the source of the cleanest energy on Earth. He is the sole employee in the moon base that monitors the remote-operated harvesters. He’s nearing the end of his three year contract and he’s getting a little loopy. He’s seeing things. He gets distracted easily. He’s had no live contact with Earth during his contract and well, he’s lonely. He misses his wife and the daughter she was pregnant with when he left. He wants to go home. He has two more weeks. And then there’s an accident.

After the accident certain things about the operation of the base start to get a little confusing for Sam. Some bits add up, and others don’t, and the sums all look bad anyhow. Lunar Industries seems to be doing some shady stuff, and there’s less than a day before a “rescue” crew shows up to take care of things. I’d put more of that in quotations but that seems like overkill. It makes for a tense countdown, with the clock ever-present in the background, counting down until the Eliza gets there. It’s really a countdown for Sam’s survival, and I don’t count that as a spoiler, to be perfectly honest. The stakes aren’t the trick to it all.

Part of the point of the movie seems to be the nature of solitude and self and who we are when we’re only with ourselves. It’s about isolation and loneliness and the things that get people through a tough job when you end up talking to yourself for lack of better conversation. The only entity on the base other than Sam is a computer assistant named GERTY. GERTY states several times that it’s there to help Sam. That is its function. GERTY seems to exhibit emotion every so often, concern about Sam and the problems that have cropped up. But when you examine GERTY’s actual actions and lines, perhaps that’s just the ELIZA effect cropping up, with pre-programmed phrases seeming to impart emotion where there’s only data. I can’t help but assume that the name of the ship coming to the moon is a direct reference to that. As is Sam’s parting line to GERTY: “We’re not programmed. We’re people.”

I’ve done a good deal of reading about people in isolated jobs. McMurdo base down in Antarctica, for example. McMurdo and its inhabitants fascinate me. Did you know one year a man completely snapped down there? Strolled into the cafeteria and smacked his boss in the head with a hammer. They had to get the fire crew to restrain him and lock him in a room until they could get him off the ice. What do you do in a situation where you only have one human employee, and something’s going wrong, and he’s on the moon? That’s far more isolated than McMurdo.

Sam Rockwell is really the only actor who appears on screen for any significant length of time. There are a couple of other people, but for the most part it’s just Sam as Sam, on the base, knowing that things aren’t right and unsure of exactly how to fix them. Kevin Spacey does a fantastic job with the voice of GERTY, imparting his programmed concern into Sam’s scenes. Somehow, with only animated smileys and Spacey’s voice, GERTY manages to be a real character in the movie.

It’s a science fiction movie, to be certain. There’s all sorts of futuristic technology, after all. Sam’s living in a base on the moon! But the power of the movie is in Sam Rockwell’s performance, playing off GERTY and his own isolation. It’s in the calm score and the eerily quiet scenes outside the base on the moon. It’s in a shot of the Earth, seen from the moon’s surface, so close and so far. It’s in the tension and the confusion and the mystery and the incredibly well-written gimmick.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Moon (2009)

August 18, 2010

Moon

Man, this movie must have been fun for Sam Rockwell. He plays Sam Bell, the lone human on a lunar base tasked with maintaining a trio of mostly automated mining machines out on the moon’s surface. As the movie begins he’s nearing the end of his three year contract on the base. His only companion is GERTY, the robot that runs all the automatic functions and takes care of him. So for ninety percent of the movie the only actor on screen is Sam Rockwell.

It starts out being a movie about how Sam has been slowly driven mad by his lonely three year stint. The communication satellite is malfunctioning, so he has no live contact with Earth. He can only communicate with his bosses and loved ones through pre-recorded messages bounced off a satellite near Jupiter. He has his balsa-wood model to keep him occupied, and he has some plants he’s growing (he talks to them.) But it’s pretty clear at the start of the movie that he’s begun to crack.

Then as the movie progresses he begins to uncover some shady dealings by the company that put him up on the moon in the first place. Not everything is as it seems, and perhaps Sam is not as completely alone as he thinks he is.

I’m being deliberately evasive in my review because I don’t want to spoil the story here. It’s so much fun to figure things out as Sam does; to follow his journey as he slowly uncovers the truth of his circumstances. So I’ll leave the plot summary at that and get back to the performance.

I really enjoy Sam Rockwell. He has been in a bunch of my favorite films from the last few years. Frost/Nixon, Galaxy Quest, Hitchhiker’s Guide. He’s a great character actor, and here he really gets to show off his abilities. He’s angry, vulnerable, confused… you totally believe every part of the movie because he does such a great job of selling the emotion of it. It must have been a real challenge, and he had at times to work with some pretty advanced special effects (there are a couple shots that I simply CANNOT figure out) but he never makes it feel like a science fiction film. He’s just this guy trying to deal with a really strange series of revelations.

The other thing I enjoyed about this movie was GERTY. GERTY is sort of the anti-HAL. Both of them act in a slightly counter-intuitive and non-human manner because they are only executing their programming, but GERTY’s primary program is fairly different to that of HAL.

All in all this is a cool, quiet, contemplative and slightly unsettling movie. The music is simple and evocative. The movie just calmly and coolly gets inside your head and makes you think. I enjoy that kind of movie.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment