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Moon (2009): ***½

Directed by Duncan Jones

Moon is a great science fiction movie that I thoroughly enjoyed and will try very, very, very hard to review without including any spoilers. But even saying that much lets you know that there is something to spoil. Hmmm... this is going to be difficult.

I can at least say the basic premise that gets set up in the first couple of minutes of the film. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a man who is finishing up a three-year job as the sole caretaker of a mostly-automated Helium-3 mining facility on the moon. His only companion is GERTIE, the somewhat-mobile computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey) of the station. The mining company's communications satellite has been damaged the whole of Sam's stay on the station, so he hasn't had any actual live conversations with anyone, only recorded messages traded back and forth with the corporate people and his wife (who got pregnant around the time Sam left, but they didn't know until he was already on the moon) and the daughter he's never seen face-to-face.

Sam only has a very few days left before he gets to go back to Earth. And, understandably, he's getting a little loopy. And then...

Well, that's really all that I can say about what happens. But, dammit, even saying that much lets you know that something happens.

This entire movie hinges on Sam Rockwell's performance as Sam Bell. And it is a fascinating, funny, and very good performance. If you don't like Sam Rockwell then I urge you to stay away from this movie, because he's in almost every single frame of it. And it's a performance that raises some great psychology. He really effectively portrays a smart but simple man put in a very difficult situation. Sam Bell isn't an extraordinary person. He's just a regular guy with his own set of problems and no special insight about how to deal with them. If you have only yourself to keep you company, well, what if you don't like yourself very much? Why would a married man agree to three years of solitary confinement? How much would three years of solitary change you? Would you come out a better man? Or worse?

Kevin Spacey is also great as the calm and reasonable GERTIE, and the computer's simple emoticon interface is a stroke of production-design genius. It results in some really funny moments as well as some really creepy ones.

I really enjoyed the lunar surface cinematography and special effects. Zowie Bowie — sorry, I mean Duncan Jones — opted away from making the moon look glamorous or beautiful. It is a harsh, monochromatic, desolate location. When you see it in this movie it looks stark, harsh, and like you're looking at a landscape of death. This moon really is a harsh mistress.

Moon is a first-rate science fiction movie that uses familiar, recognizable science fiction tropes to examine the human condition, rather than using them just to blow shit up real good. Anyone who has any exposure to any sci-fi at all will be instantly familiar with pretty much everything in the film, which is good; it lets you move past all the science stuff and focus on the psychology and story. Even though all of the sci-fi tropes are familiar, there are still a couple of very clever parts that made me smile, especially towards the end. Like much heady science fiction, though, it does require quite a bit of suspension of disbelief. The main idea seems really impractical and risky. Would that really be the best way to do it? But if you can accept the basic situation, then the whole movie clicks right into place.

There. I don't think I gave very much away. So now go see it and be surprised.


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