Moon: Duncan Jones

In the wake of the science-fiction phenomenon Avatar, it is conceivable that 3D blockbusters may become the default for years to come as studios strive to emulate the giddy box-office heights of James Cameron. This is not a criticism of Avatar – it is a pulse-quickening experience – but even the most brightly lit displays can become wearying on the eye.

Duncan Jones’ first film, Moon, is a delightful antidote for those craving ideas that seem beyond the churn of Hollywood studios. Using old-fashioned models and seventies-looking interiors, Jones has created a highly realistic lunar station, from which Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) monitors and maintains a one-man mining operation. In this near-future all our energy problems have been solved by the discovery of Helium3, a clean fuel found on the dark side of the moon.

Moon gives us Sam Bell at the end of his three-year contract. He is desperately tired and lonely, bickering with his robot helper GERTY (voiced with sinister ambiguity by Kevin Spacey) and chatting at length with his indoor plants. The long-range communications satellite has been out of commission and contact with his wife and daughter has been exclusively through video recordings. With only weeks to go before he heads home to Earth, it seems all Sam has to do is wait.

But waiting alone on the moon for three years has taken its toll. Bouncing slowly across the cool dusty pock-marked terrain in a lunar truck, Sam is spooked by a vision and crashes into one of the automated Helium3 harvesters. When he awakes in the infirmary, GERTY fussing about him, Sam’s understanding of the world begins to change. GERTY seems reluctant to impart information about the crash and unusually obstructive when Sam wishes to leave the station. What ensues is a surprisingly early revelation of a key twist, from which inexorable conclusions are reached. In uncovering truths about his work, Sam begins to question who he is, why he is caught in his predicament, and what it is to live in the age of the corporation.

Underpinning these questions is the film’s minimalist aesthetic. Grey exteriors are punctured by harsh slashes of sunlight. Earth looms large, mournfully luminous but also distant and abstract. This is what it must be like to go to work alone on a mine site, awakening to straight-lined white interiors laced with moon-dust. Sam’s spacesuit doesn’t gleam - it too is dusty and scuffed. Moon abounds with such quotidian details of the working life. This is not 2001, more Silent Runnings meets Outland. It is not a film about gadgets - it is equally as fascinating to watch GERTY cut Sam’s hair as it is to see him unloading Helium3 three from a moving harvester – and the film builds its momentum around Sam’s re-conception of truth rather than any space-age technological conceit.

It is a beautiful film to watch, too, but where Moon is most extraordinary is its emotional depth. Sam Rockwell delivers the best performance of his career as an exhausted workingman prodded into action. Complemented by a stunning sonic tapestry from Clint Mansell, Moon is an intensely thoughtful and original interrogation of what our horrid, corrupt and exploitative monster of a world is up to and heading for, entirely explored through one man’s confrontation with himself.