Friday, August 7, 2009

Moon (2009, Duncan Jones)

The young lady behind me at Moon couldn't stop giggling at the Kevin Spacey smiley face robot. His voice comes out of a space age trash can on an arm that more resembles a piece of hospital bed apparatus than R2-D2, and the small LCD screen mounted in front like a blood pressure monitor instead displays a yellow smiley face that makes a lot of chatroom emoticon faces. Spacey's mellifluous voice is the only other co-star in terms of screen time besides Rockwell, more than the people he talks to or watches on a video screen. Films as solo acting performances are either boisterous or dispassionate, and fortunately Rockwell's bizarre non-reaction to discovering a duplicate of himself creates the mood of a great existential mystery. The film's other niche of the duplicated actor film hasn't been used this way before and the effect is successfully otherworldly. In space anything can happen in the movies, and while the ultimate revelation isn't transcendental, the curiousness of Rockwell literally finding himself in the same place at the same time - breaking the first law of physics - is allowed to linger for a while before the rather humdrum explanation. Rockwell isn't particularly easy to empathize with, but he's believable in a role that demands a lot of creation from silent discovery and contemplation.

Jones has made a refreshingly simple science fiction movie bereft of all the cliches which turn science fiction into action. The story would've been at home in paperback form, and possesses a subtlety occasionally interjected by the smiley face robot or great looking views of the alien lunar surface. Rockwell, having previously sullied himself in the long awaited, instantly forgotten The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy acquits himself admirably in holding convincing conversations with pieces of plastic, and actors who aren't there, even when they're him. Paranoids way wish to observe Rockwell's character in Hitch-Hiker's had two heads. When seen living in Moon's lunar space station, Rockwell feels home. The production design correlates to the bone dry humor of Rockwell having lived there brilliantly by fashioning the architecture out of modern IKEA inspired minimalism. The pristine phoniness recalls 2001, both films could be travel brochures for commercial space living except Rockwell keeps a pile of dirty laundry and belongings against the wall of his private quarters. His world feels more plausible than any grungy cyberpunk sci-fi dorm room. Outside the station, the miniature and model work of the moon's landscape is superb during some extensive moon buggy driving sequences.

Jones' fable of a clock punching astronaut bears a lot of resemblance to the long allegorical chapter about "Space Monkeys" in ultra feminist Susan Faludi's 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man: for all the hype surrounding the few men who had "the right stuff," ultimately they live as gears in a gigantic vehicle and life support machine. The appearance of a twin suggests thematically a loss of individuality, which is intriguing since the isolation of space is so all consuming, as is the weight of importance when there may only be a few dozen human beings in space at any time. Moon never lets on exactly how far in the future it takes place, only far enough for Rockwell to do the farming. By successfully hanging on Rockwell's performance, both blank and identifiable, Jones strikes the tone of his themes early and loudly enough to echo past the relatively uninspiring resolution. Despite a lot of empty space, the mood passes by with the quality of an old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits.

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