Saturday, June 27, 2009

As For Film: Moon

Homage to sci-fi has been done before, but never with such dignity. Moon’s space station looks like an old Star Wars set from the 70s’, they just replaced the light bulbs and dusted things off. The talking base computer reminds us of 2001’s HAL constantly. It's definitely not ripping anything off, director Duncan Jones is simply giving credit where credit is due.

Add to this great homage a stellar performance by Sam Rockwell and the always-spectacular composer Clint Mansell, and Moon is a pretty fascinating piece of work. More than likely, the theater audience is made up of people who watched the trailer online. Already knowing that this film is going to have something to do with multiple identities, the viewers are treated to even more surprises as time goes on. But to our surprise, the film doesn't really end up being what we think it will be, and some of the film’s biggest mysteries are never revealed.

In the first act, it seems possible that our protagonist, Sam, is playing head games with himself. And indeed, he is imagining some weird stuff. But eventually, he stops imagining, and reality sets in. By the time we’ve taken this dose of reality, we’re surprised, a little bit disappointed, and intrigued by this unique story that begins to unfold.

Three things keep us glued to Moon, two of which I’ve already mentioned (Sam Rockwell and Clint Mansell). The film moves in such a way that keeps us constantly guessing. At the exact moments in which Jones intends for us to figure a new piece of information out, we do. But each new thread beckons another question, and this continues up until the end of the movie.

But there’s one image that we won’t find clarity on. Oddly enough, this image sets off the entire chain of events in the film. … That girl. Perhaps this is a MacGuffin. Perhaps we’re never supposed to know what this magic image is, but it's the only key to all of our heroes’ questions. Who was that girl? What was that all about?

And yes, there is more than one hero in this movie. But both of them are the same person. As confusing as that sounds in writing, Sam Rockwell makes it look easy. This is probably the actor’s finest performance of his career. Once he proved himself in Snow Angels, Rockwell is set in stone as one of better actors we can have the pleasure of watching at the movies nowadays.

But the real kicker is Clint Mansell’s soundtrack. Mansell found fame with Requiem for a Dream, and some of the residue of that intense musical anxiety is left over for Moon. Synthesized fear, mystery and claustrophobia with a little bit of futuristic dread keep the intensity thumping.

I’m still wondering what this movie is about though. Some of the base computers were named after the synoptic gospels. Is Moon about the pre-programmed truth of religion? Clones are not treated as persons, but as dispensable objects of technology and modern efficiency. Is Moon saying something about social injustice amidst energy efficient, green consumerism? Was Gerty, the base computer, completely neutral? Or was there a sort of subjectivity in this machine? And if the machine was "good," what does that then say about the individuality of Sam? Especially if he's a clone. And what about that girl? Why did he see that girl? Was it his daughter? An angel? An angel of death?

I really think that I might need to see this film again. The first viewing delivered too many surprises, but a second time around might give me some more perspective. I loved the homage though. If you are a sci-fi fan, you must see this film. You will appreciate it (unless you’re a Star Wars or Star Trek nerd, in that case just stick to your sources. There's no geeky action at all in this one). But Kubrick fans, rejoice in the unanswered questions and ambiguity. Moon is a philosophical trip and a cinematic buzz. Bravo, son of Bowie.

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