by Devdutt Nawalkar
Film: “Moon” (2009)
Directed by Duncan Jones
Actors: Sam Rockwell
Moon belongs to a rare breed of movie that takes its time to lay out a premise and lovingly nibble around it, whittling away at the surface like a nuanced sculptor in complete control of his vision and the tools he employs to that end. Standing alone and proud amidst wistful ruins of creativity and storytelling prowess befallen to buzzards of FX wizardry, Moon documents the oft-untapped potential of science-fiction to present provocative, socially relevant themes that have the pulse of the general discourse at large.
Science has always been at loggerheads with establishments. Overwhelmingly, over the last two thousand years, the latter has been represented by religion (I imply the Catholic Church specifically because it’s generally been the Western world on the cusp of advances). The symbiotic relationship that organized religion shares with the political world has meant that scientific progress has faced more than its fair share of obstacles along its cumulative journey. While we’ve come a long way from the days of the flat earthers (or have we?), and while organized religion has lost much of its overweening favour, the bible still dictates terms to logic, especially in that great bastion of human enlightenment, the United States. Seats are still bought by appealing to the lowest common denominator in human intelligence. Presidents – past and present – toe the idiot side of the fence with self righteous alacrity. A particularly virile ground for fanatical elements to harangue their deluded causes has been the field of genetic research. Stem cell research and cloning have long harboured resentment among different stratas of society, but nowhere near as intense as that shared by those of the Good Word. While I wholeheartedly endorse a healthy debate on the ethics of unhinged bioengineering, my predominantly cynical self doesn’t have much time for the anti-research industry wrung up by Bible thumpers.
I just tricked you into reading my jaundiced opinions because Moon has nothing to do with religion. But it does concern itself with one of the heated issues that religion carries a bone with.
Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) works for a lunar mining company that operates a largely automated plant on the satellite’s surface. The organization posts a nominal and solitary figurehead, on three-year stints, to overlook the process and carry out routine repairs. Sam is two weeks from completing his contract and while increasingly suffering the effects of extended isolation in a harsh environment, he is also looking forward to being reunited with a young wife and a newborn daughter (or one that was newborn when he left the planet anyway). As fate goes, Sam suffers an accident in his lunar bogey while he’s outside doing maintenance. Oh he comes around alright, but only to make a life-altering discovery about himself and his place in life.
I’m sure the reader’s perfectly capable to sense what I’m getting at, but revealing any more would tip this review into spoiler territory. What I can talk about is the awe-inspiring performance turned in by Sam Rockwell, who you may remember from The Green Mile as Billy The Kid. In a very unconventional and challenging role, Rockwell imbibes his character with equal parts humour, longing, depression, confusion, frustration, and, ultimately, rage. There are no overt histrionics, no playing to the gallery. Rockwell gets into the skin of a man who’s had his perception of existence skewered through and through, and who’s trying to come to grips with it in his own way. He makes you feel for his plight, an especially applause-worthy task because of the other-worldly nature of the situation. That’s getting back to what I said earlier in the review. All good science fiction, while introducing tantalizing technological premises, never lets the human element be raped. Moon is a credible tribute to the genre.
This is director Duncan Jones’ debut feature, and one that pegs him as someone to be followed.His hand is assured while relaying a complex subject in an understated yet imaginative manner. He owes a visible debt of influence to the feel and texture of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The look of the moon station is as it should be; not buzzing with activity, but a cold, impersonal place with little tolerance for human indulgences. The music is sparse, and juxtaposes the sterility of space with the throbbing emotional content of the story. A further throwback to 2001 is the presence of an AI aboard called GERTY, Sam’s sole confidante through his travails. Does GERTY share much of HAL’s mean streak as well? That’s for you to find out.
Moon is poetry in motion. It eschews all genre and era constraints, and tells a strange story in a strange way. Like all good pieces of art, its subject matter can be a source for debate long after the final images have faded away. Carried in the safe hands of Jones and Rockwell, this is/was one of the best movies of 2009.