Actor Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell, a blue-collar working Joe with two weeks left to go on his contract. For the past three years, working solo, he has overseen the "harvesting" of fusion-power fuel, Helium-3. Canisters are routinely rocketed back to Earth, where the fuel provides 70 percent of the planet’s energy needs.
But there are two Sams in this movie… Sam Rockwell’s riveting performance alone could almost carry the film even without the fine directorial debut of Duncan Jones. Rockwell acts opposite himself, and at times you’re convinced there really are two distinct actors.
The setting recalls the era of the Apollo project, the exciting three-year period between 1969 and 1972 during which a dozen Americans walked on the moon.
With nods to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 (1967) and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), the eerie ambient "Moon" mood is highlighted by Clint Mansell’s hypnotic score. And Moon uses cool 70s-style miniature sets like the ones used in the original Star Wars rather than computer graphics.
The film also pays homage to other films of Jones’s youth, including Silent Running (1972) and Outland (1981). The infamous Tyrell Corporation from Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) shows up in the form of the mining company’s disposable bioengineered clones (rather than replicants) and memory implants.
Not many (if any) reviewers picked up on the fact that Duncan Jones studied Western philosophy in England for nearly seven years before entering film school. He combined his academic studies in philosophy with his love for science fiction in his thesis topic, "Applying Ethics to Sentient Machines." It shows.
Kevin Spacey voices the HAL-like GERTY, a robotic AI whose sole purpose is "to help Sam." GERTY’s emoticon faces are another nice retro touch that invokes the era of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Jones says his intent was "to create something which felt comfortable within that canon of those science fiction films from the sort of late seventies to early eighties."
The audience is constantly on edge waiting for something akin to the famous lines, "Open the pod bay doors, HAL. I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that." But GERTY’s ethical guidance system turns out to be much more human-like (or, should I say "transhuman-like") than HAL’s seemingly more rigid programming. GERTY permits Sam-2 to find Sam-1 in the wreckage of a moon rover, and ultimately allows him to "reboot" and clear his memory so that Sam-2 can escape to Earth in a Helium-3 canister. The clone who fell to Earth.
At one point, Sam-2 turns to GERTY and says "You’re more than just programs – you’re a person." If Dalai-Lama-like compassion is the highest form of human emotion, then GERTY is a saint. Or perhaps the directive “to help Sam” overrides any other programming?
And Sam-2 selflessly offers Sam-1 the opportunity to escape to Earth. Unfortunately, Sam-1’s time, like the replicants in Blade Runner, has run out "like tears in rain." Planned obsolescence. Equally selfless, Sam-1 takes the fall for Sam-2 by returning to the wreckage of the moon rover so that mining company investigators will never know what happened.
Does Sam-2 make it back to Earth? And what does he find there? These questions are never answered in the film.
Ethical guidance systems, clones, memory implants, planned bio-obsolescence, AI, personhood, identity – h+ readers will find plenty to ponder in this soon-to-be classic SF film.