'My mind's been acting kind of weird lately," a worried Sam Bell says to his constant, and only, companion, a robot named Gerty 3000.
The sole crew member of a lunar base where helium 3 is being mined for an energy-starved Earth, Sam — a virtuoso turn from Sam Rockwell — is pretty much the only character in Moon, an eerie near-future tale from filmmaker Duncan Jones.
In his beard and baseball cap, working the control panels, doing his exercises, watering the plants — and occasionally taking a rover out across the cratered terrain to check a "live one" in the mines — Sam is nearing the end of his three-year tour of duty for Lunar Industries.
But then he starts seeing things, hearing things — a girl down the corridor, a disembodied voice, or that guy in the rec room jumping rope. A guy who looks just like Sam.
Inspired by the '70s science fiction of Outland and Silent Running — and certainly by Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (Gerty and HAL 9000 have a lot in common) — Moon is a deceptively simple study of alienation, paranoia and loneliness.
Jones, in his first feature, expertly intercuts shots of the ghostly lunar terrain and Sam's rover rolling across the chalky surfaces with scenes inside the station. There's Sam's sleeping quarters, plastered with photos of his wife back on Earth, his bed like a dorm-room disaster area. And Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey in a soothing monotone) looks more like a dentist's X-ray machine on pivots and wheels than a WALL-E-type 'bot. Its backside sports a Post-it note that reads "kick me" (Sam having some fun), while its boxy visual monitor displays a smiley-face icon, or a sad face, or a neutral straight line, as Gerty and Sam communicate, exchanging pleasantries and work directives.
And as Moon progresses into more ominous territory, a strange empathy — conspiratorial, tinged with dread — reveals itself in Sam and Gerty's dialogues.
Jones is the son of rock icon David Bowie, whose own explorations of space travel and alienation were embodied in the songs Space Oddity and Starman, in Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. I have no idea if or how that music influenced the younger Jones, but it's hard not to watch astronaut Sam trying to make contact with his bosses on Earth and not think of lines like "Ground Control to Major Tom."
Rockwell, the ever-adventurous indie actor, does a lot with this role, investigating facets of his character with nuance and haunting conviction. In the end, Moon raises disturbing ethical questions about science and bioengineering, but it's the emotional questions the film poses — about memory, family, identity — that really resonate.