I’ve taken a liking to the television series “Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts.” It sends pampered young adults to places like Dharivi, India to try their hands at working in sweatshops. They learn firsthand how much hardship goes into the making of trendy shirts and jackets.
“Moon,” directed by Duncan Jones (rock star David Bowie’s son), is cut from the same cloth. It opens with a promo for Lunar Industries, describing their revolutionary solution to the world’s “dirty energy” problem. They’ve established a base on the moon for strip-mining surface rocks. The Helium-3 gas extracted from them is sent back to Earth in pods to fuel fusion reactors.
The story focuses on Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell in one of the finest performances of the year) as he goes about his lonely day-to-day routine of keeping the base operating smoothly. In homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” he spends most of his time exercising, burning his fingers on food packets, and talking to a computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).
There’s nothing glamorous about Sam’s days. He babysits rock harvesting machines. But Rockwell imbues the character with limitless charm. The emotions that ripple through his face as he watches his wife and young daughter on a transmission from Earth are filled with love, sadness, happiness, concern, and longing for his three year assignment to be over, the sooner the better.
Things get complicated when Sam, while servicing a runaway harvester, crashes his lunar rover, loses consciousness, and is believed dead. The movie fades in on Sam, looking spritely and strangely healthy, reclining on a medical bed. He is being examined by GERTY. He has no memory of the accident.
Then, on a service mission, something happens to him that changes everything. The tagline is: “The last place you'd ever expect to find yourself.” As we discover the sly meaning behind that tagline, Sam learns that his “three year assignment” isn’t quite as it had seemed when he read his training manual.
Lunar Industries is gradually revealed as a ruthless corporation operating under the guise of “Green” awareness. Like children working in sweat shops sewing inseams and testing buttons for pennies an hour, Sam performs filthy, dangerous tasks for no money at all – in the name of “clean” energy. Both Sam and those children are slaves lining the pockets of a few fat cats.
Jones fondly recalls the days when science fiction was for grownups. He has stated in interviews that “Outland” and “Silent Running” and the original “Alien” were foremost in his mind while creating “Moon.” I also wonder. How much are his dad’s Major Tom and “The Man Who Fell to Earth” fueling his visions and firing his imagination? He already has a sequel in the works, continuing Sam’s story after returning home.
Jones clearly has a love for science fiction flowing through his veins. “Moon” is the real deal. It’s smart and compelling and remarkably strong visually for its shoe-string budget.
Yes, Sam’s is a rare sequel that I can’t wait to see.
“Moon” is rated R for language. It is a terrific work of “hard” science fiction, but its emphasis on the reality of living alone on the moon – both in terms of science and of desolation and boredom – will make it a trying experience for the young – and probably some older folks as well.
The movie shows at the Grand Theatres on Thursday, March 11 at 3:00 and 5:30 as part of the Cinema 100 Film Society series. Tickets are available at the door.