238,857 miles away from home ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

238,857 miles away from home

My rating:

I think I may be getting spoiled by the cinema-going experience. This is my fifth Not Coming to M'sia movie - which by nature are all films I saw on DVD - and they've all been hard to review. I've always felt like I should like them better, and that they're just not grabbing me enough simply because I'm not getting the big-screen experience out of them. (Time to start saving up for that 48-inch TV.) Moon has been especially hard to get into - not through any fault of the movie itself, but because I tried watching it twice and both times my DVD conked out on me an hour in. Such are the perils of watching home movies in Malaysia.

But it's a pretty damn good movie anyway.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is the sole human being living and working on a base on the moon, overseeing a valuable mining operation. His only company is a computer named Gerty (voice of Kevin Spacey) and the occasional video message from his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott). All he's looking forward to is the end of his contract in two weeks' time, and the prospect of coming home - but three years of isolation has left him desperately lonely, and perhaps, not quite mentally and emotionally sound. On a routine drive out on the surface to tend to a harvester, he hallucinates and crashes his rover...

...and that's all the synopsis I'm gonna tell you. It's really the kind of movie that's best watched if you know as little as possible. But my principle is that it's not a spoiler if it's in the trailer, so I will reveal that the plot involves there being two Sam Bells running around the base. Why and how, I shall keep mum about. But this is the film's vehicle for telling a story about loneliness, an examination of the ethics of future science, a character study, and a sci-fi story that is truly science fiction. Writer-director Duncan Jones (whose father is the one and only David Bowie) has openly admitted the influence of films like Outland, Silent Running, Alien, and of course the seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey. That influence is in the sterile look of the lunar base, the treatment of astronauts as working grunts, and the deliberate pace of the plot.

What it does with the two duplicates of its main character, however, is entirely original. It may test some viewers' patience when, after discovering the other's existence, both Sam Bells spend a goodly amount of time warily circling each other instead of getting down to solving this mystery. But I happen to enjoy a good character drama, and this is a uniquely science-fictional device for Sam to literally come face to face with himself. There are clear indications that his marriage is estranged, and that he took the contract to work on the moon as an escape from his problems at home. Sam Bell is not a happy man, before or after three years of soul-crushing loneliness, and that's why the two of them - two of him? - can barely stand to be around each other.

Which also makes this film an acting tour-de-force for Sam Rockwell. He makes you forget that this is one actor playing dual roles; coupled with Jones' ingenious technical trickery, the illusion that you're watching two people is seamless. His performance really is amazing, both from the sheer acting craft required to play two different versions of the same character, as well as the skill to perform them both interacting with each other. In a just world, he'd win every acting award of the year. The only other character with significant screen time is Gerty, the base's computer represented by a couple of robot arms and an incongruously humourous smiley-face screen, and given an appropriately creepy monotone by Kevin Spacey. Yes, he instantly recalls HAL 9000, but his role in the story isn't what you'd expect.

I'm making this movie sound boring, aren't I? Well, it is a slow-paced film, and it demands both intelligence and patience of the viewer. But it's also science fiction at its most deliciously mind-bending and thought-provoking. The two Sam Bells do eventually uncover the mystery, and it is not only heartbreaking, but also heralds the more suspenseful last act of the movie. There aren't supposed to be two Sam Bells at the same time, and there are people who intend to rectify that mistake - and this puts our hero(es) in a race against time. The resolution of the mystery, the character drama, and the ultimate fates of both Sam Bells are terrifically satisfying, and ends the movie on a high note. So yes, it's a fun movie, if you enjoy this kind of fun.

And why shouldn't you? I've made no secret of my love for science fiction before; I like a good popcorn movie, but I especially appreciate a film made for intelligent adults rather than nine-year-old boys, mainly because they're so rare. And this is definitely a rare film, so by all means seek it out and show it some love. Hopefully you'll get a good DVD copy that plays all the way through for you; if I'd had that from the beginning, Moon might very well get an extra half-star from me. I suppose it's certainly too much to hope for that our local cinema distributors would bring this in to theatres.


Anonymous said...

ok i go download.

Bernard Chung said...

I haven't watch this one yet but the hypes are all around.

chicnchomel said...

i know why this movie will never make it on the big screen here. they would expect a sci-fi action with aliens and whatnots. Seriously cool cos for a while i thought it was all in his head. great soundtrack too.

gwailo said...

you definitely need to watch this movie with a good sound system. The music is great. It's the 2nd best score of the year after The Hurt Locker.