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Moon is a film set fifteen minutes in the future that looks at what humanity might have to do to sustain our current way of living once we’ve burned through the natural resources available to us. On one hand, it’s very clever and considered, and it gets a lot of the science right. It’s based on the idea of using helium-3 to patch over our problems rather than investing in renewable sources, something that has actually been considered in real life. Helium-3 is in short supply on earth but due to a perfect storm of conditions on the moon, it can be found in abundance. In Moon, a private company by the name of Lunar Industries plays the trope-ish role of the big corporation with little regard for human life, and they’ve managed to come up with a way to mine this potential new source of energy. That’s all pretty spot-on and realistic, but in order to get to the other hand, beware of spoilers.

Lunar Industries, like most huge corporations, have to rely on exploiting humanity for its own gain. In this context, we find out that in order to run a space station from which they’re mining helium-3, they’ve cloned a single worker, Sam played by Sam Rockwell, to perpetually die and be reborn every three years. Presumably, the original worker knows about this from the evidence we see – the clones regularly have video calls with a real-life daughter on earth and in one scene the real Sam asks who she’s talking to in the background. This is where the other hand starts to show. You’d think something along the lines of “don’t come in while I’m talking to your clone, just in case” from the daughter or “tell me when you’re talking to my clone so I don’t blow it” would be fairly well-established ground rules, but it gets worse. There’s an onboard AI who works as the presence of the corporation on the ship. They regulate the clones essentially, getting rid of the dead ones and waking up the spare ones when necessary. The way we find out that this is going on is because Sam overhears a conversation between the AI and the corporation. As if the AI would need to speak and hear words in order to communicate. It makes no sense and it’s a shame because part of this is a really rich, really well-thought-out film about the near future and the ethics we’ll encounter in it, and the other just poses a question of whether any of it was considered at all.

For the most part, the film is carried by Sam Rockwell alone. He’s a one-man crew in the middle of space with only a video link to his daughter and an AI interface for any company. That is until he starts meeting fellow clones. This is where, for me, the film becomes the strongest version of itself. Although we’ve got multiple iterations of the same character, they all have distinct personalities because they’ve experienced different things. It’s implied that the original Sam had anger issues, so the younger clones that we meet still exhibit aggressive behaviours that the original Sam would’ve had, but the one that’s been alive for longer is presumed to have found the isolated environment therapeutic, so he’s much more chilled, for example. Sam Rockwell’s performance to highlight these intricacies in their personalities as part of a nature vs nurture debate is really something to be commended. And to think he managed it as a one-man cast is even more impressive.

Aesthetically, this looks like a much more expensive film than it is. At a modest $5 million, Duncan Jones has achieved a very realistic visual of a lunar station that’s isolated on the moon from utilising practical effects. Most of the landscape shots are just miniatures, something that Jones would’ve been quite familiar with coming from an effects background. Apparently, during a screening of the film for NASA students, he was asked why the design of the station was reminiscent of a bunker, to which he replied that he thought astronauts would build a structure out of materials found on the moon rather than transporting anything up. Coincidentally, one of the other audience members was working on technology to achieve exactly that.

Moon is a good film that could’ve easily been a great film. It poses profound questions about the way we might approach the future, as well as the reasons we’ve got to the point where we might have to in the first place. It’s measured and considered, features a fantastic performance from a great actor and it looks great. Unfortunately, it just keeps tripping itself up on the strangest of things. Part of me wonders whether the problem might be in its editing. I wonder if certain plot points had to be expedited for the sake of its runtime, and that’s why we’ve ended up with the odd sequence where its thoughtfulness comes into question despite it showing elsewhere that it has a lot of substance.

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