Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Moon (2009)

Retro Active Critique #11

I was wondering for some time if storytelling was dead (or dying.) And then I saw "Moon". What a refreshing throwback to a classic film making style. We get a story with a fascinating protagonist; there is a setting, a conflict, a resolution. Indeed, reminiscent of the films I cherish most from the 1960's and 70's. I find myself drawn to stories that capture that level of intrigue (or nostalgia) that has been lost for some time now in terms of space travel and exploration - and, I tend to have an existential sensibility in terms of isolation
and appreciation for one's self. It's also highly likely that my great enthusiasm for a film like this stems from the fact that my father was, literally, one of the rocket scientists who helped build the very first Apollo space shuttle for NASA.

Speaking of fathers, director Duncan Jones (who also wrote the story his film is based on) is David Bowie's son. He was called Zowie Bowie for a while after his birth. That the son of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust - and more specific to this, 'Space Odyssey'/Major Tom mastermind - should conceive a film like this doesn't surprise me in the least. But it is an infinitely delightful revelation. I like when things fit together so perfectly. And that is how "Moon" works, as well. Everything is in tact. It is neat, elegant and wonderful.

Its elegance begins with the credits. To actually relish in the visual pleasure of a film's credit sequence is itself a bonus. The credits and names seem projected against the stark scenes, and the music is charmingly appropriate audio for what we are seeing. I found myself already making checkpoints in my mind for how the film had excelled in those two initial features. I can even suggest that the simple, lovely and well-suited score ought to be considered for a nomination, come Oscar time. Such suggestions certainly wouldn't end with the credits. But from the first moments, I was thrilled to realize I actually felt like I was watching 'a real movie', the kind that makes you anticipate what's to come and what you are about to experience, in the purest sense of the entertainment medium.

The story itself was better than I'd expected. I thought I knew what I was in for: a lonely space adventure, and a bit of a thriller. But I was still surprised by what transpires. I recommend this film, and therefore wouldn't want to give away too many spoilers... but I can say that I hadn't expected to see the first clone 'buddy film' or clone 'love story' (in a sense). I was pleasantly surprised by the freshness of Jones' imagination in a genre that has shown us almost everything else. Even 'Gerty', (voiced by Kevin Spacey) develops into an atypical sidekick for this type of story.

Gerty is a robot and the sole companion for protagonist Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), a lonely astronaut living on a moon base for years - as he is under contract with his employer, Lunar Industries, an energy provider for Earth in the near future. Gerty is as chilling and detached as you'd expect a robot to be, and only has computerized smiley, sad or perplexed faces on display to show his emotions. When Sam begins to suspect that his messages to Earth have been intercepted and that communication with him is blocked, it is indeed chilling when Gerty replies, "Sam, I can only account for what occurs on the base." And Gerty reminds Sam frequently that it is there to help him, and that he is always at his service. But guess what? Gerty is actually an honest and kind robot! I certainly hadn't expected that, and again, it is an amazingly refreshing twist in a seemingly typical sci-fi scenario. Leaving the theater, I kept smiling to myself thinking, "Gerty was actually nice! I can't believe it!"

Then of course there's Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell. In practically every moment he is on screen, and sometimes twice or three times (you must already know what I mean, since I did give it away - my apologies.) If the Academy has any sense at all going into the nominations for '09, Rockwell will certainly become a prominent nominee for his amusing and impressive execution of this unusual, challenging role. His work was pitch perfect, and utterly believable. And that says a lot, considering he plays Sam Bell at the end of his three-year contract and Sam Bell at the beginning of his three-year contract - and his Sam Bells team up to try and understand their predicament and perhaps help one another out in their seemingly hopeless situation. They even have a spirited but badly matched attempt at ping-pong. It is a beautiful, existential take on isolation and the befriending and love of oneself. Sam Rockwell gives a remarkable performance in a remarkably stylish film and one of the best of its genre in... decades.

Now to take us out, most appropriately, here's a promotional video for "Space Oddity" by Papa Bowie, who is sure to have been a 'Major' (haha, get it?) influence on Duncan Jones' first feature film. First of many, I hope...

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