The best science fiction stories are grounded in actual scientific principles that are used to establish a futuristic scenario that then facilitates the exploration of deeper philosophical issues. The hard science in Moon is the idea that in the future humanity will mine the moon for its rich supply of Helium-3, in order to power the Earth with nuclear fusion. On board a moon based Helium-3 mining station is its sole occupant, mining company employee Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) with only his computer GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company. Sam is close to finishing his three-year contract with the company but the impact of the loneliness and isolation is starting to kick in. After a near fatal accident on the moon’s surface Sam is presented with an existential mystery that gives him very good reason to question his sanity.
Feature film debut director Duncan Jones cites Alien, Blade Runner, Silent Running, Outland and 2001: A Space Odyssey as some of his influences. By using a combination of old-school model effects and soundstage sets with modern CGI, Jones has deliberately evoked the look of these films, especially Alien, where technology is bulky, slightly worn out and dirty. Sam’s dishevelled appearance and the film’s low budget aesthetic even resembles Dark Star to a degree while thematically Moon also strongly evokes Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris. However, it really is 2001: A Space Odyssey that comes across as Jones’s main influence, especially in terms of overall production design and the computer character GERTY, which is an overt reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL. It is curious to note that 2001: A Space Odyssey is also the film that inspired Jones’s father David Bowie to musically explore similar ideas revolving around the alienation, emptiness and sadness of space.
Moon is an incredibly impressive film that assumes a degree of intelligence from its audience even if it is possibly a little too quick in revealing the explanation for what is going on. The lunar landscape looks incredible and Rockwell gives an amazing performance, sustaining the entire film as almost the only actor to appear on screen. Moon is a small film but it effectively and credibly captures the beauty, melancholy and eeriness of space while telling a surprisingly human story.