Every year there are quality films that fly under the radar and go unnoticed by the general public. With the increasing trend of certain films lacking an efficient marketing campaign by studios, and getting a limited release by only playing in New York and Los Angeles, it occurs quite often. The general politics and reasons behind this issue are a matter of discussion requiring a more extensive discourse that I won’t delve into at this time. Just note that it occurs to many independent and festival style films each year that are excellent and deserving of praise outside those circles, but for some reason after being purchased by a major studio are not deemed marketable and are basically buried alive, unlike say, those awesome Tyler Perry movies.
That being said, in 2009, Moon was one of the aforementioned films. The directorial debut of Duncan Jones (son of David Bowie), Moon is a slick part science-fiction part psychological thriller set on, well, the moon. Jones is a promising director and shows off his filmmaking skills as there is really only one human character and Moon relies heavily on visual storytelling. Jones and star Sam Rockwell effectively create a visual and expressive juxtaposition of Sam’s loneliness and psychological turmoil onto the emotionless void and vast emptiness of the moon and outer space.
Rockwell puts on a remarkable and possibly career defining performance as Sam Bell; an astronaut nearing the end of a three-year solo stint on the moon harvesting Helium-3 for a major energy company. When not observing the mining operation, Sam jogs on a treadmill and spends hours carving a wooden model of his hometown. Sam is clearly feeling the effects of his isolation on this bleak, barren mass of gray rock and often talks to himself and has reoccurring hallucinations. He longs for a return to earth and reunion with his wife and young daughter, with whom his only contact is by delayed video message. His only companion on the lunar base is GERTY, a mobile all encompassing robotic assistant voiced by Kevin Spacey.
Not much more of the plot can be revealed without spoiling the film because it relies heavily on its twists and deception. However, Moon is visually stunning and plays psychological warfare with its main character, but also with its viewers. While watching this film, you really feel like you’re right there along with Sam, alone in a desolate location. Which explains Moon’s major drawback, a slow start, to translate this feeling to viewers. Then, as Sam begins to crack and question his surroundings, so does the viewer. Moon is great if you hate being spoon-fed and instead enjoy having to question and decide for yourself what exactly is going on before the film ultimately reveals itself. In the vein of sci-fi/psychological thrillers of the 1970’s like 2001: A Space Odyssey and even The Twilight Zone, this film toys with the mind of its characters, causing them to question everything they previously believed about their existence; and deals with how much we trust technology, machines, and even other people. Duncan Jones paid homage to the classics, and maybe even created his own sci-fi classic in the process.
Moon was one of the most interesting films released last year, and Rockwell’s performance is strong enough to be called Oscar worthy. However, it was not nominated for anything. Duncan Jones voiced his displeasure after the studio didn’t engage in any sort of Oscar campaign. Sony Picture Classics has a reputation for the awful way it markets and promotes its releases; this isn’t the first time a film lauded by critics and viewers alike has gone largely unnoticed. A grassroots campaign was even launched to get Sam Rockwell nominated, including support from Hollywood names like Jim Jarmusch and Jon Favreau. Moon is definitely worth watching and is now available on DVD and by rental through Netflix. The Moon trailer is below.
– Ian Lewis