Tuesday 23 November 2010


Moon is a great film. It reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Solaris (1972) and even Blade Runner (1982).

The film centres on Sam Bell (played marvellously by Sam Rockwell), a miner living alone in a space station on the far side of the moon. Here, he operates mining equipment which harvests helium 3, the source of much of the world’s energy. His only friend is GERTY (voiced by the wonderful Kevin Spacey), an overly helpful computer, who shows his empathetic responses through a series of emoticons ranging from happy to tearful. Imagine if HAL had been programmed to smother you with friendliness and sensitivity. But for Sam, a programmed friend is much better than none at all. The communication system has been broken for the duration of his stay and the only videos he gets from home appear to have been edited. As Sam approaches the end of his three-year contract, he is slowly losing his mind to loneliness and isolation. He even sees a series of visions reminiscent of those in Tarkovsky’s Solaris.

Sam eventually has an accident while going out on a mission to check the mining equipment. He wakes up back in the station, having been ostensibly treated by GERTY. When he gets a warning that there is a problem at the mine site, he drives out there only to discover an injured version of himself. The mystery is solved when we discover that there are in fact two Sam Bells, the surname ‘Bell’ suggesting a sense of lingering and repetitious sound: the first one was the victim of the crash at the mine site and the second one is his replacement who rescues him. It turns out that the company has been economically using clones, whose memories and life have been extracted from the original and real Sam Bell. Until the two cloned Sams encounter each other, the secret has not been discovered because each Sam dies at the end of his three-year contract. Indeed, the first Sam is visibly undergoing cellular senescence as he nears the end of his term.

Although the two Sams become friends, a complication arises when the company dispatches a rescue team to investigate the accident. Knowing that they will both be killed when discovered together, the two Sams must think of a solution to their dilemma.

The film addresses many philosophical, existential and metaphysical issues including the nature of the self, our responsibilities to others and the reliability of memory. Despite its exploration of serious themes, the movie still has strong emotional power. There were several instances in the film that moved me to tears, the first of which was when the first Sam realises that he is but a clone with false memories. Another moment was when he tries to communicate with his daughter and discovers that the real Sam is living with her on Earth. Finally, I felt the scene in which the second Sam is forced to carry the dying body of the first Sam very moving. How sad is it to be the pallbearer of your own corpse?

In one scene, the flailing Sam yells, ‘I want to go home!’ This scene should resonant with anyone who is living abroad. Even if we are not on the moon, being away from your family can feel just as isolated and helpless. Of course, the moon can also represent a kind of emotional wasteland, where we all might find ourselves abandoned. There, you are alone, you feel empty, you doubt your own existence, you yearn to return home.


  1. Kevin said: "I feel the life of Sam in the moon station is not much different from that of the PC-stuck, Internet-dependent modern people – isolated despite the connectivity provided by technology. I even wished to have a PC like GERTY, who seem more human than Sam. Scary, isn’t it?"

  2. Gontran said:

    A kind of story which is quite classical of traditional science-fiction, when you come to think of it (I think ALL good sci-fi has ALWAYS addressed the issues you mention, not just big intellectual mavericks like “2001″ and “Solaris”… I’m thinking, for example, of the nature of the Self, which has been fairly covered almost all through by Philip K. Dick). But as classical as the story is, the variation is definitely quite well done (Mansell’s music, as well, is very typical, but definitely nice).

    What I probably liked most is the “anti-HAL”, GERTY. We (or I, personally) have been conditioned by decades of sci-fi to see AI as a threat, and the film plays very well on that reflex: I found it very difficult, through the film, to trust that piece of mechanics, that arm of Lunar Ltd, with its unnerving smileys and its hidden prerogatives… and then, at the end, it was quite a nice surprise to discover that this was not Kubrick’s world, but Isaac Asimov’s: the AI had actually been so well programmed in order to be helpful, that it ended up betraying the corporate villains in favour of the hero(es). Very nice twist.

    Something which was very interesting is in the projection I saw (besides its being exceptional since the film is meant to be direct-to-DVD in France, with no official release in movie houses – because of non-fictional corporate villains) was followed up with a Q&A with four scientists, specialized in various matters of neurology and cognitive sciences, as related to space travels. That was very cool, too.

    We learned that the film was quite accurate in some of its sci-fi attempts at foresight (extracting Helium 3 from the moon really is among actual scientific prospects and reflections regarding the acquisition of new sources of energy), and a bit more n’importequoitesque in some others (when living on the moon, you’re not supposed to have a normal gravity inside the facilities; your gravity there would be the same as outside: the lunar, very weak gravity).

    There was much very interesting information. One “nice” piece of info, for fans of the film “Cube”, or the play “Huis clos (No Exit)” (or I think things like “Dogville” could probably be added to the list, having a very similar narrative pattern and socio-psychological point, though in a different kind of context): one of the scientists bluntly explained that today, the biggest problem, as to organizing a actual long-time mission on Mars is not the technology, which mostly is developed enough, or wouldn’t be difficult to develop enough. It’s rather the problem of the small-group psychology: the people working on it are still unable to figure out how to launch such a mission, what kind of people to send, how many of them, what proportion of men, what proportion of women, etc. in order for it not to end as it is most probable that it should end: a micro-civil war between the astronauts.

    And, by the way, as usual: Sam Rockwell rocks!

  3. I love the film Cube (I’ve watched it several times). And Philip K. Dick (Well, you know I have read his books). I have also watched Dogville. Now, go read my other messages about your lecture on Romantic literature.

  4. I've heard nothing but good things about Moon. What continues to hold me back from seeing it, thought, is the 2001 thing. When you make a movie that seems so clearly indebted to one of the all-time most masterful movies ever.... I don't know. It's like trying to write a first-person story about a teenage boy running away from prep school. If it ain't The Catcher in the Rye I'm not sure I really want (ie. need) to read it.

    But am giving all this second thought when it comes to Moon. Sounds worth a visit.


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