I was ready to give up on Moon pretty early on in the second act. Things had been going reasonably well up until that point. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) was nearing the end of his three-year stint as the one-man crew of a lunar mining station who spent most of his time making videos to send back to his wife and kid on earth, scratching his unkempt beard, talking to a robot with Kevin Spacey’s voice, and having hallucinations of this broad in a yellow dress. The writing was good, the set design, shot composition, and overall direction was impressive, and Rockwell was turning in a great performance. I’ve always liked Rockwell- he’s like Phillip Seymour Hoffman only without being insufferable. Congratulations, Phil, you’re ugly and you have a scratchy voice. That makes you a serious actor!
Then Bell got distracted by one of his hallucinations while driving his moon-rover around and he crashed it and woke up in the station’s infirmary with no memory of the accident. Spaceybot told him some bullshit story and wouldn’t let him leave the base, but he distracted Spaceybot and got into one of the rovers and drove out to the crash site, where he found Sam Bell trapped in the wreckage of the first rover. He brought the old Sam back to the base and asked Spaceybot what the fuck was going on, but Spaceybot was less than forthcoming. It seemed that instead of trying to rescue the first Sam Bell, Spaceybot just left him there to run out of oxygen and die and whipped up a clone back at the base. Holy shit, bro.
The two Sam Bells started bickering. The freshly-baked Sam quickly realized they were both clones, but the older model refused to accept it at first. The new Sam overheard a conversation between the Spaceybot and some energy company bureaucrats back on earth, which was upsetting because realtime communication was supposed to be down. The Sams got in a fight over an exacto-knife, and the older Bell’s hair and teeth started falling out. This is where I really started to get worried.
We had two clones, one of whom was starting to reach his expiration date (although we weren’t sure if one of them was a hallucination). They were stuck in a remote location in space in the employ of a mega-corporation with dubious ethical standards, they were starting to get a little unstable, violence was in the air, and they were under the watchful eye of a robot that couldn’t be trusted. Also, they were playing ping-pong with each other. Basically, the film was a weird combination of 2001, Blade Runner, Fight Club, Alien, and any movie where a guy is alone for a long time and grows a beard and starts flipping out. And The Parent Trap.
Now, Parent Trap excepted, all of those are pretty fucking good films, and, up until that point, the filmmakers had done an excellent job keeping Moon fresh despite its derivative nature, but I had the sinking feeling that I knew where the film was going, and I was none too pleased about it. The two Sam Rockwells would end up fighting it out in the corridors of the station. Everything would be ultra-intense and claustrophobic. Maybe they’d end up uniting against the Spaceybot, maybe it would turn out one of them was a hallucination, maybe the entire film would be a hallucination, maybe they’d find the cloning machine and it would be like the time Calvin and Hobbes turned the transmogrifier into a duplicator, maybe it would turn out that Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, I couldn’t be certain. All I could be certain about was that I didn’t give a fuck. I was contemplating getting up and utilizing the free refill to which my large popcorn entitled me, but then something wonderful happened- the two Sam Rockwells started getting along, not just with each other, but with the Spaceybot, too. I’ll leave out what happened after that, I’ll just say this- see this fucking movie.
It seems that the filmmakers were actually interested in making an original, thought-provoking movie, one that is refreshingly understated and refuses to rely on cheap pseudo-horror or overly theatrical hysterics. Rockwell, as the only actor with lines not spoken over a video screen or radio, needed to give an outstanding performance, and he came through. His characters come to grips with their nature in a sardonic yet melancholy manner that never crosses the line into inauthentic movie cynicism, and the film is infinitely stronger for it.
Moon deals with questions of identity and what makes a human in a remarkably straightforward way, never stooping to some kind of Richard Linklater/Wachowski Brothers stupidity, but making a statement all the same. The Sam Bells learn that they are clones of the original Sam Bell with his memories implanted in their brains, but their humanity is never in question. They have working minds, their memories are real to them, and they regularly make decisions that attempt to subvert what the Spaceybot calls their, “program.” When the Spaceybot uses this term, Bell immediately informs the robot that he is a human and he has no program. There is no wondering about whether or not he has a soul or what it all really means- everything is real to him, and he has more important shit to worry about right now. How could he look at the situation any other way?
I still got my popcorn re-filled on my way out of the theater. I ate it all in the car.