Duncan Jones’ new science-fiction thriller ‘Moon’ is set in the not-too-distant future, with a contractor, Sam Bell, on a lonely three-year mission at a mining outpost on the far side of the moon, counting down the last days before his return to Earth.
It seems that Bell, played by the excellent Sam Rockwell, may be losing his mind: a damaged satellite means communication with his wife Tess, his daughter Eve and with Lunar Industries, the clean energy corporation that employs him, are impossible. But when one of the mining machines breaks down and Sam ventures out to repair it, he is involved in an accident and wakes in the base’s infirmary, to discover that he is not alone. There is another Sam – a twin, an exact double. Is he hallucinating, or is there something more sinister happening?
The answer is inevitable: of course there is something more sinister. From Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ to George Orwell’s ‘1984’, good science fiction is invariably dystopian, speculating on the future using the anxieties of the present. ‘Moon’ asks very modern questions about how far corporations would be prepared to go and how little they might care, in the pursuit of profit, about the people they employ. It also plays on fears about isolation, loss of identity and the fragile nature of mortality. This makes for a dark, claustrophobic film, with a great score by Clint Mansell and most scenes played out a single set that appears to be straight from the 1970s TV programme Space:1999.
Its other cinematic influences, from 2001 to Solaris, are clear enough, but there are few dramatic special effects (the vehicle shots on the moon’s surface really look like models) and the script is tight but less complex than these earlier films, based essentially around a single concept that works because of the central performance by Rockwell. The atmosphere of uncertainty is definitely aided, however, by the dry laconic voice of the computer GERTY, provided by Kevin Spacey – until near the end of the film, the audience is never entirely clear whose side the astronaut’s only companion, with its artificial emoticon 'facial' expressions, is really on.
A great film, then, a reminder of the quality of Sam Rockwell’s acting and a rare gem amidst the many lacklustre, forgettable summer blockbusters this year.