Brainpurge: Moon

Probably the worst movie poster ever. It looks like a broken magic eye picture from the 1970s.

The moon’s a bit rubbish overall, really, isn’t it? I mean, America spent the better part of the 20th Century trying desperately to reach it in their rocketships, and when they got there, all they did was plant a poxy flag and get misquoted by hundreds of millions of people. The moon is like a really huge, fancy rollercoaster in a big, empty theme park: sure, being on it is dizzying and weightless, and it’s novel to be up there for a little bit, but then you realise there’s nothing else to do here once the ride’s over, and you’re actually feeling a bit sick, and you want to go home now. If Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin were  here, they’d tell you the same thing, no doubt.

Anyway: Moon. Moon manages, wonderfully, to be different. (Some mild spoilers beneath the cut, m’dear.)

Rather than choosing to obey the Star Trek/Babylon 5 code of conduct (to wit: at least two races of plasticine-coated humanoids must feature, preferably speaking an exaggeratedly Germanic form of English, and probably have some sort of stupid mining dispute, or something, that can only be solved by us wonderful, brainy, handsome humans) Moon decides to set the entire film within an isolated base on – gasp – the moon, which is inhabited by one man and his robot.

It’s ostensibly disappointing that this doesn’t lead to Moon being the greatest buddy movie ever made – the exploits of Moonman and Moonbot, getting into scrapes with Moonwomen and assorted Moonruffians – but luckily, the film makes up for it by being interesting in other, less insane ways. The rightful selling point of the movie is Sam Rockwell’s turn as the lonely moonman Sam Bell, wherein he alternately channels Giovanni Ribisi and Christian Bale, and manages to be less of an annoying sod than either of them. The movie calls for Rockwell to pull off what is, basically, a one-man show, and he handles it capably.

And it’s a great movie. It’s funny, mysterious and intelligent, and it builds to a satisfying conclusion. Slight shame, then, that it gets a little confused about what it wants to be at various points throughout.

At the start, you think it might be an essay on the effects of loneliness and isolation. Is Sam imagining all these mysterious happenings – the live feed back to Earth, the doppelgangers, the odd, fleeting visions? The answer ends up being a confusing mixture of yes, no and maybe, as if you’d asked the entire United States of America if they know where Barack Obama was born. (Hawai’i, you demented, fat idiots.)

Then everything becomes a combination of an identity comedy and a sci-fi mystery, and some of the previous threads are forgotten in the name of a plot twist. And out of the ashes of the study of isolation, it builds a fine thriller. But the joy of finding a movie that isn’t afraid to leave some questions unanswered is offset by the nagging feeling that they probably didn’t really intend to.

It’s just little details that seem like they’re supposed to build to something, but never do. The way Kevin Spacey’s GERTY moonbot is sometimes an amiable, lovable computer companion, and sometimes he’s seemingly a malevolent, backstabbing HAL-wannabe. There’s a scene where GERTY stalks up behind Sam and extends a mysterious appendage as he’s preoccupied with trying to remember a password; part of me expected GERTY to stab him in the neck and have done with it, and part of me expected him to tickle Sam as a lead-in to a soft focus montage piece. In the end, he just enters the password for Sam.

Then there are the visions Sam sees at the start of the movie. A ghostly apparition of a lady. These are never explained, and just disappear as soon as the doppelganger shows up. Is it tied into the fact that Sam’s mind is starting to break down? Or is it just a bit of the plot that they forgot they’d put in there, like a debilitated fiver you find in your jeans’ pocket after washing them? There is literally not even a hint of an answer – or even any sign that Sam cares to find out what the visions are. It’s frustrating.

But ultimately, not spell-breaking. For as long as I was in the theatre, these issues simply weren’t issues. I was too busy enjoying a science fiction movie that didn’t ram loud CGI robot death-cars down my oesophagus; a movie set in space that didn’t have a cavalcade of ships blowing each other up; and a movie where the pleasingly physical-looking robot communicated through a combination of spoken word and MSN emoticons.

So, in the end, Moon the movie is a lot like the moon landing itself: it’s a fine experience first time around, but looking back, you start wondering if it was all that great, and also, they were both filmed on movie sets. Zzzzzzzing!

A MOON.

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