Richard’s Year of Movies — Moon

Before Star Wars, science fiction films has moved on from the rubber bug-eyed monsters of the 1950s into the bleakly nihilistic films of the 70s like Logan’s Run and Soylent Green and Silent Running.  Technology was oppressive and industrial and only served to underline what a bunch of selfish thuggish twits we were by making it incredibly easy for us to selfish thuggish twits.  Then along came Star Wars, and, for the most part, it was back to gee whiz adventures in space.  Sci-fi didn’t have to mean despair, it could also mean hope.

Moon is a sort of blend of those two sensibilities.  It starts off with the stark, sterile vibe of a 70s sci-fi film.  Everything is white and gray, modular and automated.  One man is alone on a lunar station, nearing the end of a three-year contract.  His only companion is the station’s computer, able to move about via a series of tracks in the ceiling.  And it’s the computer who gives us the first crack in the bleakness:  in the midst of all its mechanical arms and unblinking electronic eyes is a small screen with a bright yellow smiley face.

As the film goes on, everything that would have gone the way of a depressing ending 35 years ago goes in exactly the opposite direction.  The computer doesn’t turn out to be a cold, calculating enemy.  The man doesn’t get ground up in the corporate gears.  The system doesn’t win.  Instead of being a solemn warning against progress out of control, the film ends with a message of hope, that humanity can and will prevail, regardless of what form humanity takes.

I’m going to give away a pretty big twist here, so if you haven’t see the film, please enjoy this picture of a frog:

OK, on with the good stuff.

Our hero is a clone.  Instead of sending a real human being up to the moon, they send a series of clones with three-year life spans.  And the big lie is that at the end of their three-year “contract”, they’re sent into an escape pod which is supposed to send them back to Earth, but which actually incinerates their deteriorating body.  Then a new clone is brought up, told that he suffered an accident but should be fine now, and it’s back to work for another three years.

The problem comes in the second sentence of that last paragraph — “Instead of a real human being”.  See, the clones are pretty sure they are real human beings, and once they figure out what’s going on, they don’t take too kindly to being the flesh and blood equivalent of a roll of toilet paper.  They reason, quite rightly, that no matter how long they live, they’re alive, they think, they feel, and they shouldn’t be reduced to spare parts.  Even if that’s the only reason they were created in the first place.

In the end, one of the clones escapes to Earth and ignites a firestorm of controversy over the company’s methods.  It’s a hopeful ending, but tinged with sandess; we know this clone’s only got about two and a half years left.  We spend decades trying to come to grips with who we are and how that fits into the grand scheme of things.  Imagine having only a fraction of that, and knowing exactly when and how the end will come.  It recalls one of the final lines of Blade Runner (one of the post-Star Wars sci-fi films that went against the grain), where a character says of an artificial human with an unknown but pre-determined life span, “It’s too bad she won’t live forever; but then again, who does?”

Oh, and Sam Rockwell got flat-out robbed by the Academy.  On the surface, you’d think this was just a gimmick role, playing two versions of himself.  But each clone is a finely drawn character in its own right.  The first has been around for almost three years and is a lackadaisical, easy-going guy who just wants to go home.  The second is that same character three years ago when he was gung-ho and sharp and meticulous.  You can see real conflict there, as one is reminded of where he came from and the other is shown where he’s headed.  It’s not just some cheap theatrical stunt, it’s two well-crafted performances.

I’ve got nothing else to say really, so here’s that frog again:


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