Saturday, April 10, 2010
Moon -- effects of isolation
Director: Duncan Jones, 2009.
Forty years ago pop-singer David Bowie came out with his second album "Space Oddity", which was inspired by Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Four decades later Bowie's son Duncan Jones pays homage to that movie classic with his first full length feature, Moon, from a story he wrote himself.
With a budget of a mere $5M, lunch money to some directors (think James Cameron, director of the 2009 sci-fi smash hit Avatar), Jones has come up with a striking film that is as much psychological drama as it is science fiction. With his limited resources, he has eschewed the wonders of cgi and focused on more classical effects, like miniatures. But this is not a criticism. In fact it works very well, and gives this film an old-fashioned feel allowing it to be compared well with movies in this genre, such as 2001 and Blade Runner.
Moon is virtually a one-man show built around Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell (although the voice of Kevin Spacey is heard as his computer companion). Rockwell carries the movie on his shoulders, showing us he has the acting chops to do so and be in front of the camera for almost the entire film.
Bell is the sole inhabitant of a lunar station on the dark side of the moon. He has a three year contract with Lunar Industries that is almost up. His job is to harvest the helium-3 found there, the source of clean and abundant fuel for earth-dwellers, and then rocket back to earth the tanks as they get filled.
With two weeks left to go, he is counting the days until he can return to earth to be reunited with his wife and young daughter, who was just born when he left on this mission. Unlike in "Space Oddity", where Bowie sings, "Ground control to major Tom," there is no contact between ground control (or Lunar Industries) and Bell, as the satellite link has been damaged. So, Bell is completely alone, apart from GERTY, an artificial intelligent computer, and infrequent video recordings sent to him from earth.
The unintentional yet prolonged isolation has taken its toll. With nothing else to do but wood carving, routine exercising and plant growing, Bell has started to talk to himself, and to his plants. He also starts to have hallucinations. He is beginning to crack up.
Moon opens us up to the question of what effects long-term isolation has on a person, particularly his psyche, but it does not really answer its own question. It is clear that depriving a person from human interaction for an extended period will cause some damage, but how much is the big question. With the future possibility of manned space flights to mars or beyond, and today's orbital space-station a reality, these are legitimate questions. Man is a relational being, and needs social engagement to thrive and grow emotionally. We even find our true identity through relationship, but specifically our relationship with God, our creator (Jn. 1:12).
The film has been compared to 2001. Both have an astronaut alone on a ship or in a station. Both have a computer. Where HAL was soft and creepy, becoming malevolent, GERTY is soft and friendly, not malevolent; think HAL with a heart. As he says, "I'm here to keep you safe, Sam. I want to help you." And he does. Also, the first half of the film is filled with classical music, just like 2001 was with its inimitable Strauss score (both Richard and Johann). The long slow tracking shots used to capture the eeriness of the moon also parallel the early slow shots of the space station in 2001.
When Bell goes out in a space rover to check on one of the harvesters, he gets into an accident, Perhaps this is partly due to his mental deterioration. But when he wakes up to the friendly tones of GERTY in the sick-bay he comes face to face with a discovery that sends him reeling. His world is not as he thought it was. The second half of the film is a mystery that is an enjoyable journey of self-discovery.
If the scene-setting first half is slow and moody and 2001-like, the mystery-solving second half is more akin to Blade Runner. And just like in that earlier film, memory implants and identity take center stage. But Blade Runner is a much better film for exploring identity, and Moon quickly focuses attention on the baffling puzzle that Bell finds himself in.
As the film concludes, we realize the second question Jones puts before us is what will big business do for a profit? Is it ethical what Bell finds himself caught up in? Though introduced in a futurist film, this is a question relevant to any age. If business puts profit before people, deceiving and lying to gain an edge, this is ethically wrong and the sign of a morally bankrupt company.
Jones and Rockwell do a fine job of crafting a science fiction film that delivers on both the aesthetic and ethical levels!
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs