Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday Movie Day Reviews

Moon (2009): As we celebrate the 40-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, an exemplary film offers us a brief glimpse into our future relationship with our largest satellite. Filmmaker Duncan Jones' Moon tells the fascinating story of astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) as he works a three-year stint on the far side of the moon harvesting resources as a new energy source. Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract and is close to cracking from the loneliness. More like a lunar maintenance guy than an actual miner, Sam watches monitors and records data while keeping himself entertained with reruns of classic television. Nearly cut off from communication with the earth due to a broken satellite, Sam's only companion is GERTY, a friendly robotic entity calmly voiced by Kevin Spacey. The only comfort comes from delayed communication feeds from his wife, Tess, and their little daughter Eve.

Sam's loneliness spirals into hallucinations and erratic behavior. A terrible accident with a harvester leads to a crash and a blackout. Upon awakening in the station's infirmary, something isn't right. Sam isn't sure how he got back into the station, and GERTY won't allow him to leave to fix the harvesters. When Sam finally manages to leave the station, his discovery of a body in the wrecked harvester leads to a spiral of disturbing revelations. Revealing more would fall into spoiler territory, and this is a film that you want to enjoy as the narrative peels off one layer at a time. It's a smart sci-fi film with a number of mind-boggling attributes, but it doesn't careen off into the overly metaphorical aspects of Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic. You can easily keep up with the plot while it twists and turns through further revelations.

There aren't many films where one actor carries the entire story alone. Recent examples have been Castaway and I Am Legend, but both had star actors that used celebrity to keep the films engaging (Tom Hanks and Will Smith, respectively). Sam Rockwell carries the film not on his celebrity, but on his incredible acting chops. He plays Sam as a wounded, complex, lonely man with a variety of moods and motivations. He stares at the computer screen at an image of Tess, he playfully interacts with GERTY, all while wrestling internally with his increasing loneliness. It's a singular Oscar-worthy performance and one of the best of the year.

Moon raises some thoughtful spiritual questions about isolation, morality, and the power of the truth. How would a human being endure living completely alone on the far side of the moon? What would keep a person alive? With ever-increasing technology, what constitutes a person? GERTY shows incredible compassion, concern, and even empathy with Sam's situation. Yet he's still a robot, a kinder version of the HAL-9000 from 2001. In a poignant exchange between the two, Sam reminds GERTY that, "we are not programs. We are people. You are a person." Programs don't have life; people do. In a world where human lives can quickly become commodities or cogs in the corporate machine, we need this reminder. We are people, not programs. We are meant for community, meaning, and purpose. We are meant to experience hope and know the truth. We cannot truly live without these, no matter how advanced our technology takes us.

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