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Sundance 2009: “Moon.”

Sundance 2009: "Moon." (photo)

"Moon" has the serious/silly premise you'd expect from a '70s sci-fi movie, the type that's meant to make you gasp "Oh, the terrible inhumanity of it all. And yet... that could be us someday!" while not holding up to real examination. (In this case: how could it possibly not be more economical to just bring in workers from China?) But "Moon" also has Sam Rockwell, who gives such a funny, sad, tender performance that the film works as a drama about a man who, thanks to a mixture of high technology and corporate malfeasance, is forced to confront the wrathful person he used to be and the changed one into which he's grown -- to learn to embrace himself, sometimes literally....

“Moon” has the serious/silly premise you’d expect from a ’70s sci-fi movie, the type that’s meant to make you gasp “Oh, the terrible inhumanity of it all. And yet… that could be us someday!” while not holding up to real examination. (In this case: how could it possibly not be more economical to just bring in workers from China?) But “Moon” also has Sam Rockwell, who gives such a funny, sad, tender performance that the film works as a drama about a man who, thanks to a mixture of high technology and corporate malfeasance, is forced to confront the wrathful person he used to be and the changed one into which he’s grown — to learn to embrace himself, sometimes literally.

Rockwell plays Sam Bell, an astronaut nearing the end of his three-year contract at a mining base on the far side of the moon. His only company is Gerty, a talking computer with a robotic arm and a window that displays its feelings via emoticon. Sam may watch a lot of old TV, but he obviously hasn’t seen many sci-fi films, or he would have never agreed to live in an all-white space station with an artificially intelligent computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey, even) by himself in the employ of an ominous multinational corporation. But the trouble that comes for Sam isn’t from an expected direction. I won’t give away the plot twist, which anyway isn’t hard to spot coming and arrives earlyish in the film, but it starts to look like Sam isn’t going to make it home to his wife and the child he’s never met, not in the way he’d always expected.

Directed by Duncan Jones, who once upon a time was inflicted by his father, David Bowie, with the name Zowie, “Moon” looks awfully good for an indie sci-fi film. The Sarang station that houses Sam is both antiseptic and scruffily lived-in; the lunar surface is desolate and monochromatic, disturbed by massive automated mining machines that plow along the surface, kicking up debris. Its the plot mechanisms that are faulty, but even those are forgettable enough as enablers of the films “Solaris”-lite ambitions, in which space is the place you go explore yourself. With Rockwell’s performance, “Moon” turns out to be warmer to the touch than it first appears.

“Moon” currently has no U.S. distribution. See all of IFC.com’s Sundance coverage here.

[Photo: "Moon," Independent, 2009]

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