I recently watched a movie called, Moon, which is probably the finest example of philoscifi I have seen since Gattaca and The Matrix. Considering that Gattaca came out in 1997 and The Matrix came out in 1999, that’s saying something. The more I read about Moon, the more impressed I became. Impressed enough to actually write something about it in a timely fashion!

Moon is a rather simple story. Astronaut Sam Bell is nearing the end of a 3-year stint on the far side of the moon. He is the only human on base; his only companion is a computer/robot named GERTY. He can only communicate with Earth via recorded messages because the live satellite link is down. The prolonged isolation seems to be playing tricks on his mind. He begins to see and hear things. It’s so distracting that he gets into an accident outside. He awakens at the base, but something isn’t quite right…

One of the harvesters is busted, and Sam wants to go fix it. GERTY forbids it. Through some trickery, Sam finally convinces GERTY to let him go outside. He arrives at the harvester to find a crashed rover with somebody inside. He is still alive. Sam rushes the person back to the base infirmary. The person is Sam Bell.

To reveal the “secret” so early in the movie might seem like a big mistake, but this isn’t a mystery/thrilller. This is a thinking movie. It’s about the consequences that follow, not the revelation itself. You’ll have to watch the movie if you want to find out what happens!

Things I liked (contains SPOILERS)
At first, I had mixed feeling about Moon, but both its ideas and the director’s vision really grew on me.

Clones with limited lifespans
Not a new idea but one that has always struck a chord with me (see Blade Runner). It might be cost effective for the corporation, but is it ethical to treat clones like machines to be used and discarded? Are they not human, just like us?

What do you do when you realize that everything is a lie?
Everyone reactions differently. The healthy Sam [Clone #6] is a strong individual and seems to take everything in stride. No. 5 doesn’t take it so well and begins to fall about. This seems natural considering he has lived the lie for 3 years while No. 6 has only recently been awakened.

A robot that is more human than the humans
GERTY helps the Sams through their ordeal. It is sad to see this compassion being erased when he is rebooted at the end. We normally think of robots as rational and unfeeling. GERTY breaks that stereotype.

The bond between twins/clones
Many people believe that twins share a special bond. You often hear of one “sensing” things about the other, even in cases when they have been separated at birth. This hasn’t been scientifically proven, but the director makes use of this idea in Moon. Towards the end of his lifespan, No. 5 begins to “hallucinate.” What he is really seeing is glimpses of the real Sam Bell’s life on Earth.

Perhaps Moon‘s greatest achievement is capturing this feeling so well. Far away from loved ones. Alone for 3 years. Waiting. Hoping. Discovering your life has been a lie. Dying. All you want to do is go “home.” Yet home never seemed so far away…

Director’s vision
The ending clearly leaves room for a sequel, which presumably will be about the ramifications of Sam #6’s arrival on Earth. The director envisions it as a “spiritual successor to Blade Runner.” This sounds interesting, and I hope it gets made.

Moon impressed me on many levels. Everything was stylishly understated. The effects served a storytelling purpose rather than simply being window dressing. It had great production values considering its relatively low indie budget. The story, though simple and predictable, was haunting. Sam Rockwell did an admirable playing two very different personalities. The director, Duncan Jones, clearly drew upon his philosophy background and love of classic SF movies in creating Moon–his first feature film, believe it or not. You don’t see this kind of philoscifi much anymore. It’s nice to know that it still exists.

4 thoughts on “Moon

  1. Glad to hear it. It does start a bit slowly and has a predictable trajectory, but I think its production values, ideas, and acting performances more than make up for these things.

  2. There’s a couple of things that I wish were better done in the movie:

    One is how exactly the clones receive Sam’s memory when being awoken from stasis. It’s one thing to grow clones, and another thing entirely to supply them with their originator’s life experience and knowledge. It’s hinted that both processes are separate, GERTY tells Sam his memories are “planted”, but how?

    The moral questions regarding cloning, present in the film, are certainly not unique. In fact, there’s an undeniable parallel between this movie and, right off the top of my head, The Island, in the fact that clones are secretly and inhumanely tricked and used because it’s more practical than the alternative.
    So we COULD talk about the questions being brought up on the morality of industrial human cloning….
    …To what extent is a clone a real person, if he’s vat-grown for a specific purpose, with no real life to speak of. Would this be equivalent to the practice of raising farm animals exclusively for slaughter? rats and monkeys for testing? Are these practices more acceptable because those animals “aren’t people”? Would it be acceptable to do this sort of thing because it’s practical? In The Island the clones allow other people, “real” people to live fuller, happier lives. In Moon it allows for the extraction of an idyllic infinite energy source. Would YOU accept these situations? The essential question here is: Should moral acts be judged on their utility? Is there a “cut-off” point for the validity of this sort of rationalization? (SOME acts should be judged for their utility, but not others)….
    … And while that would certainly be interesting, I think there’s a more compelling part of the story to consider. The key difference in Moon is that the clones are complete reproductions of Sam, each with his set of memories and with his knowledge, while in The Island the clones are disconnected from their originators entirely, and are instead given “fake” memories. This let’s me differentiate between the two types of clones: In Moon we’re talking about complete copies of the “self”, of the whole individual, not just clones.
    This theme, and this specific point of view can bring up very interesting questions: Are the copies “real” people? Is the “real” Sam any more real than his copies?
    These questions are explored much more meaningfully in movies like The 6th Day and The Prestige, where questions are posited on what exactly IS the self, and to what extent a flesh and blood copy of yourself could replace you. Here in Moon, the copies are isolated from the real world, incapable of communicating meaningfully except when they manage to escape their isolation. This is probably indicative that the theme isn’t being used just to question the morality of human copying, but rather human copying is being used as an allegorical vehicle: So the question becomes, what does the situation represent?
    It’s telling that the movie’s consecutive protagonists relive the same three years: Those that lead Sam through his transformation from a selfish and rather brash husband to more understanding, more patient companion; and that this comes BEFORE his wife’s death. In that sense it could be construed as “Ground Hog Day”-ish… The copies are fated to experience the same transformation again and again, each time reliving the most poignant moment of Sam’s life. It’s also telling that he can never interact with his wife, only ever seeing recordings of her (are these meant to represent his own memories? of the mistakes he regrets? of the conversations he wishes he’d had with his wife?) and only ever “talking” to her in hopeful monologues. What does that mean? Is it allegorical of Sam’s own contemplation of who he was, his relationship with his wife, and his coming to terms with her death? Is his endless cycle of rebirth into the same situation somehow symbolic of a self-inflicted purgatory, where he mulls over his own short-comings in view of his wife’s departure?
    When we hear of the “real” Sam, he’s leading a happy, normal life with his daughter. Is this a wishful glimpse into a future where Sam has finally emerged from his chrysalis-like period of isolated self-contemplation and become a whole person?
    The Sam that’s currently experiencing this period of isolation sees this future Sam as a usurper, who isn’t really himself. He feels blindsighted by this person he wishes he could be, but who is ultimately alien to him… what can this be interpreted as both a wish to move on, but an inability to see himself actually moving on?

    This is certainly not the “point” of the movie though… There’s still the strange fact that two versions of Sam must co-exist with each other. One that is dying but enlightened, and one that is freshly awoken, but still ignorant of his own faults and the transformation that he will experience…. and the narrative must be considered: The copies become aware that they are copies, and must somehow “escape” before somebody comes to “fix” the situation.

    This narrative pulls the viewer along and makes the movie accessible through a discrete and digestible story-line. It saves the viewer from having to unflinchingly contemplate Sam’s remorse at not having taken steps to “fix” his relationship, which is the main vehicle for the character’s growth throughout the movie. Instead the viewer concentrates on the two Sams’ attempt to escape from the moon, which in itself is metaphorical of Sam’s own escape from isolation and grief. Through this “escape” the movie shifts from being about regret, to being about growth and acceptance, which gives it greater dynamism.

    I’m done talking, figure out the rest yourselves.

  3. Hi vmlm, thanks for your insightful post. I’m sorry that it’s taken awhile to reply. Life got in the way, and it took some time to think about what you wrote. I agree that the memory implantation could have been explained much better. I don’t think it would have been that hard, but I guess the director didn’t want to use screen time on it. Plus it didn’t seem like a priority for him.

    To me, the focus of the movie was on the question, “What happens when you discover life is a lie?” It explores different reactions through old Sam (acceptance/resignation), new Sam (fight the system), and GERTY (who breaks the rules to help them). It was a character study and a vehicle to show off Sam Rockwell’s acting skills. The issues (what it means to be human, ethics of cloning, etc) were more like window dressing or appetizers rather than the main course. They were there to make things interesting and to make us think a little. The infinite loop/break free structure has always intrigued me, which probably explains why I like movies like Groundhog Day.

    None of these elements are really new, but Moon combined them just enough to make me sit up. There has been a real dearth of philosophical science fiction in recent years (at least in terms of movies), but I do hear good things about Her.

Comments welcome!