Moon 2009 US
Directed by Duncan Jones
Sony Pictures DVD Region 2
Big, scary spoiler warning. Not only does this review contain spoilers for Duncan Jones’ Moon but, within the first paragraph even, it contains spoilers for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. If you read this review without having seen Moon you will be doing yourself (and the director for that matter, I suspect) a great disservice. If you read this review without having seen Hitchcock’s Vertigo, then you should even more hang your head in shame for spoiling great movie moments ahead of you. In fact, not watching either of these movies constitutes a terrible crime against filmanity whether you read this review or not. Secondly... although this starts off giving the impression that it’s a negative review, it really isn’t. If you’re going to honour me by reading it, please read it to the end. So please consider yourself warned... I don’t do it often.
About three quarters of the way through Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the character played by Kim Novak reveals to us, the audience, in a scribbled letter to a character to whom she never sends it, the secret of the movie... she is the original person who’s death was staged while she was assuming another identity to fool James Stewart into testifying that an unseen character committed suicide instead of being murdered. Over the years many people have argued over the fact as to whether this “reveal” happens way too early in the film and whether Hitchcock should have waited until much later to do this. Certainly the first time I watched Vertigo I thought it was way too early... on the other hand I had it pretty much sussed out anyway so perhaps it was the right thing to do? Certainly, over the years and after numerous screenings of Vertigo, I feel that actually Hitchcock made the right call on this one... it’s fascinating to watch James Stewart inadvertently torture Novak’s character because he doesn’t know the truth and to be “in on the joke” and understand Novak’s pain at this point in the narrative.
Okay, having said that much...
I took another look at Duncan Jones’ excellent movie Moon the other night on DVD. I remember watching this at the cinema when it came out and feeling just a tad disappointed... well, no, okay then... a lot disappointed on that very first viewing. Why? Well I could see as I was watching, right off the bat, that it was an amazing piece of movie-making worthy of any audiences attention but... and this really annoyed me at the time... I’d been lead to believe by the pre-publicity generated by the film that there was a big twist coming.
So I’m watching this film and about a third (?) of the way into the movie a second version of the lead star comes into existence and finds the damaged body of the previous version of him in a lunar vehicle smash-up. He brings him back to base for medical care and then you have two “Sams” in the story, both played by Norman Rockwell... so far so good. Very intriguing. This movie really has me hooked... but then they start talking about whether they’re clones of each other and I start thinking... “No. Way too obvious. Where’s the twist in that?” And so I figure the scriptwriter is trying to plant red herrings in my mind to make the real twist seem like a real punch in the gut when it comes. So I’m sitting in the cinema trying to figure out just what the real twist is... but then pretty soon after it becomes clear that clones really is the answer. These clones only have a three year lifespan - after the old one is incinerated and a new one is woken up. So okay, I think. There must be a different dimension to the story that I’m not getting yet. What’s going to happen? Are they trapped in hell? Is it really a time trap? What’s going on? And then the film kinda resolves itself... they are clones, one of them is dying and then one of them escapes the Moon to bring the truth of the “generic villanous company’s” nefarious employee-by-cloning work ethic back to earth. End of story. No twist and so I left the cinema a little underwhelmed that day... even though I knew I shouldn’t be... and here’s why.
Moon is a beautiful looking (and sounding) film. It’s really cleanly shot and has a kind of flowing pacing all of its own... sound overlaps into different scenes etc. to give the film an almost amorphous quality all of it’s own although not in terms of structure - the plotline is very linear. The style of it is almost like a modern 2001: A Space Odyssey... and I’m not making that comparison just because all of the action is spacebound. It just has that tidy, immaculate and sometimes slightly ponderous pacing which allows your brain to relax itself into the movie and build up a kind of uncluttered relationship with the central character(s).
And, of course, Sam Rockwell is brilliant. I knew that anyway, of course, from his brilliant star turn as the villain in the first Charlie’s Angels movie (yeah, okay, I loved both the Charlie’s Angels movies... so slap me) and his performance in this as he plays clones of the same person in different stages of their development is awesome. Even if he didn’t have little visual clues to help you keep track of each clone’s identity, you would have no problem telling the two clones apart. The acting is that good.
The feel you get from watching this unassuming masterpiece is the same kind of feeling you get from watching cool 70s genre classics like Dark Star and Silent Running... a relaxed and interesting sci-fi view of a world created by someone who really knows what they’re doing. It even has a reference to the first Alien movie as one of Sam’s plants is called Ridley.
Clint Mansell’s musical score is superb. Which, to be honest, is what I’d expect from the composer who gave us the landmark score to Requiem For A Dream and the Bonder than Bond score for the brave attempt that was Sahara. The Moon score keeps riffing on the same theme but it’s brilliant, filled with strange sounds including one little effect which is almost exactly the same sound you’d hear when Lee Majors did anything remotely bionic in The Six Million Dollar Man. The album is well worth a purchase for a chilled out evening with a glass of wine.
And guess what... this second viewing has made me realise that, like Hitchcock’s Vertigo before it, the clone-twist-reveal element is actually perfectly timed. It’s where it needs to be to let the story breathe and play out in it’s own time and it’s own way. I can tell that Moon is going to be one of those movies that I fire up every three or four years to rewatch. It’s a film you can relax with and which will put you in a reflective and meditative trance.
This director may well be one to watch. Let's hope we get some more films out from him soon so we can make a more rigorous judgement on a larger body of work. Not all movies work with some viewers the first time around. Some of them need to grow on you and often the fact that you don’t have to concentrate so hard on the storyline on subsequent viewings allows your appreciation of the piece to be reignited and you’ll often get a lot more out of it (Eraserhead was like that with me). This movie is going to become a constant redigitised-celluloid companion for years to come.
Take it from me... this DVD is worth taking a second trip to the Moon for.