Alone with his robot on a remote lunar station, Sam is about to head home after a three year contract. That's when things get weird in Moon, which is lucky for you if you like smart, original science fiction stories.
This is the season when movies are more likely to bash you over the head with giant robotic fists then they are to make you ponder the universe. Nothing against robotic fists, mind you. But what sets Moon apart from other space operas this summer is that it blows you away with original ideas and surprising characters. It's still action packed, violent, and intense, but on an individual scale. Instead of spaceship battles, you have one man in his lunar rover, tiny against the immense moonscape.
Sam (Sam Rockwell) has begun to realize something is wrong at the lunar mining station. He can't get a live feed from Earth, and the video mails from his wife seem strangely edited. Plus, his robot Gertie (voiced by Kevin Spacey) seems to be trying to tell him something in a very subtle way: When he delivers news from the company, he flashes emoticons on his screen which signal confusion and distress. At first Gertie seems incredibly menacing, a version of HAL, but slowly we begin to realize that the robot is more complicated than that.
And Sam's life is a lot more complicated too. He knows he's a working stiff, required only to start up stalled mining vehicles. He's so unimportant that the company doesn't even bother to fix his live feed. But when he has an accident, he learns that he's more lowly than he ever imagined.
I would like to give you a reverse-spoiler alert here. Many people seem to believe that the big reveal of this movie is that Sam is a clone. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He discovers this early on, when Gertie awakens another clone after believing that Sam perished in the accident.
Sam's coming to terms with the fact that he is a clone, and his relationship with the newly-awakened second Sam clone, form the meat of this film. Together they must unravel the mystery of their existence and find out what the company has in store for them. Gertie also has a mysterious purpose, and his battered body, covered in post-it notes, always lurks at the edge of the frame. Eventually the company dispatches a "rescue mission" to the base, and the two Sams must race to figure out what they can do to save themselves in a world where clones are clearly less than people.
Directed and conceived by Duncan Jones, Moon is quiet and disturbing, yet manages to be hopeful in the face of overwhelmingly grim conditions. Director Jones happens to be the son of alien rocker David Bowie, but the tone and pacing of this film couldn't be farther from Ziggy Stardust. It's understated and minimalist – awash in shades of gray, with a rippling score from Clint "Pi" Mansell, the story is anti-glam. Which only allows Rockwell's incredible acting to pop even more.
What's pleasing about this movie is quite simply its originality. From the breathtaking images of a strip-mined moon, to the tight shots on Sam's face when he realizes he is just a copy of a man, this is a movie that will wash those YARMS right out of your brain. And without giving anything away, I'll just say the ending is not what you were expecting.
The other thing that I think is interesting about this movie is that it is actually based on current legal theories of clones. As law professor Kerry Macintosh has pointed out in her book Illegal Beings, human clones are illegal and therefore possess no human rights. If a human clone grew up now, it would have the legal status of a slave or worse. So it is not so farfetched to imagine that clones might become the untouchables of the next century.
So if you're wondering what to see this weekend, and you're lucky enough to live in one of the few cities where this movie has opened, check out Moon. You can see robots fighting any old time. But seeing something truly new? That's as rare as a rebellious clone on the moon.