I somewhat belatedly caught up with this film recently. It brought Oblivion to mind, because while the premise is wildly different, the kind of sequence of events and environmental constraints are similar. Actually, there must be basically a whole sub-genre of these alone-in-space type films, depending on how broad you want to make your definition. We could think about the penultimate act of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example, or even stretch as far as Solaris. As always, spoilers follow whenever I think it’s necessary to sufficiently explain my point.
There are a couple of major aspects to a work like this. The first is that they tend to be reasonably heavily procedural, as in, they show life as lived by the inhabitants of whatever solo mission. It is very important to do so, in order to establish the sense of normalcy that comes automatically to films set in the contemporary world. Without that, we can’t understand what kind of deviation the action of the story represents. Moon, like Oblivion, has an opening bit setting it up for the audience so we don’t need to do any guessing. However, really the only thing we get from the opening is that he’s a moon-rock miner and he’s nearing the end of a three-year tour-of-duty. The monologue doesn’t supersede action that we’re interested in, it establishes normalcy. As well as establishing normalcy, these procedural scenes need to be a window into what’s important for the character, and ideally we should be interested and/or even positively disposed toward them.
In the case of Oblivion the monologue damaged both of those things, but in Moon there is a much defter touch, so while we’re not exactly falling in love with Sam, he’s amiable enough. But more importantly, the things he cares about are familiar to us and are things we care about: a wife and daughter left behind, a meticulous hobby, sport. Everyday things that we have ourselves. Moon judges the timing of this well – showing sufficient, but not too long before it gets the main narrative rolling.
The narrative when it arrives has an interesting premise – the corporation is cycling through short-lived clones, overseen by a robot who, for some reason, is incapable of simply performing the human’s functions. The existential questions raised by cloning are obvious, and in this situation are compounded by built-in lifespan. We could think about these guys in comparison to Rachel from Blade Runner, full memories and awareness means that once they are aware of the situation they are aware of the personal cost to themselves in a way replicants/clones are not supposed to be. The completely-constrained location and circumstance means that the pair of clones has almost literally nothing to do other than come to terms with it; but a trade-off for this confinement is that the possibility for a meaningful upset of the circumstances is minimal.
The solitude, careful pacing, and isolation, gives this film a melancholic flavour trending towards nihilism. However much you care, meaningful change seems to be out of the realms of possibility. Fortunately, the story has an escape-pod, so that we can have a happy conclusion for the character we care about. In a way, the escape pod saves the film too, because we assume there is going to be some kind of change or improvement as a result of the escape. Without that factor, we would be faced with a kind of nullity in storytelling terms, where the status quo is restored – a return to the cycle from which this narrative should be a deviation.
All in all, I thought this was a very well made and clever film. It isn’t profound – I didn’t come away with an altered consciousness, which should be the ultimate aim of Art but especially Science Fiction… but I was never bored, and the whole thing fit together very well, nimbly dealing with the clone tropes and the needs of entertainment.