Coming up on the end of a three year stint stationed on the dark side of the moon, Sam (Sam Rockwell) has been the only human manning a station that monitors automatic mining vehicles that gather a mineral needed for energy production back on Earth. His only companionship is the station’s artificial intelligence Gerty (voiced by a monotoned Kevin Spacey). While heading out to one of the automated miners, Sam accidentally crashes his lunar buggy and blacks out. He awakens to find himself in the base sickbay, Gerty reassuring him that he is safe. However, Gerty very pointedly ignores any questions from Sam as to how he got back to the base from the crashed buggy. But solving that mystery only reveals a myriad more.
Moon’s story itself is simple, and at several points it is easy to guess where the movie is heading towards next. But that’s OK, as Moon is more about acting than it is about plot. The central mystery of the film is not so much about why there are two Bells on the base as it is about revealing Bell as a character.
To fully discuss Rockwell’s performance would involve spoilers that the audience is probably better left discovering for themselves. The two Bells are very different characters, with both major and subtle mannerisms helping to make the distinction. Suffice it to say that Rockwell plays these two differing aspects of Bell in a way that gives us a deeper understanding of the character(s) as a whole than we might have gotten for a similar character stuck in a more conventional plot situation.
First time feature director Duncan Jones does an admirable job in creating the atmosphere for this character examination to play out. It is here that he betrays the obvious influence of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Douglas Trumball’s Silent Running in creating the palpable sense of loneliness and monotony that someone in Bell’s position would feel. The 2001 allusions are further enhanced through the design of the robotic Gerty, whose video camera eye strongly recalls that film’s HAL 9000.
But into this sterile environment Jones has injected a rather unique structure for character examination. There are no big explosions, no huge action set pieces or laser gun fights. This is simply a speculation on man’s future relationship with technology and for that, Moon is probably the most literate and literary science-fiction film to come along in a long time.