The movie Moon is indeed about a lone man on a remote outpost in space where strange and unexpected things keep happening, with only a talking computer for a companion, but such a description evokes one too many false expectations. This is neither a creepy horror thriller, nor is it 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the other hand, this is one of those movies in which giving away the central plot point risks taking all the punch out of said plot point, thus making a review a tricky task. This is a trait shared by some of the very best and worst movies alike, making the plot of Moon difficult to discuss in general, which perhaps is why the only detail that most people have heard about it is that it was directed by Duncan Jones, who happens to be the son of David Bowie.
This much can safely be said about Moon: Sam Rockwell plays a hapless guy (also named Sam) who runs a mostly automated energy mining base on the moon by himself. He’s about to be sent home at the end of a three year stint, for which he must surely have been highly paid or been desperate for work, because it meant leaving his pregnant wife behind on earth. His wife and young child can only communicate with him through pre-taped video messages, as the live video chat link is perennially broken. This has left Sam mostly cut off from the world, leaving him to either talk to his robot (voiced by Kevin Spacey) or to himself.
He’s also bored. Very bored. He rides a treadmill, builds a scale model city, lets his beard grow ungainly, and only cleans up the latter because he’s about to finally get sent home. But this all happens rather quickly within the movie, saving the audience from having to suffer through the same slow moving boredom that the character has clearly had to endure. Before long there’s a mining problem which forces him to head out in a rover vehicle, and in doing so he learns something that causes him to not only question what his company is really up to, but to question his own nature.
From there the rest of the movie centers around Sam’s attempt to understand the weirdness that he’s discovered, and to try not to go nuts over it while coming up with a solution. The odd circumstance gives Rockwell a rather unique opportunity to show multiple sides of his acting range at the same time, so to speak, and your potential for enjoying the movie will come down primarily to whether you enjoy watching this particular actor work as he portrays a harmlessly luggable loser who’s quite the opposite of the prototypical sharp minded outer space hero. And he sells it rather nicely.
Alright, enough double speak. If you’re still not sure whether you want to see Moon, you might as well know what the big plot revelation is. I’ll share it below this line. If you don’t want the spoiler, do not read below the line.
Spoiler alert below:
What Sam discovers in the mechanical accident is himself. Literally. He finds a clone of himself, injured, and brings him back to the base. We quickly learn that this “Sam” is actually the clone, as he believes he’s just arrived on the base to start his three year tour of duty. The injured Sam that he finds is the person we’d been watching early in the film, the one who’s been there for three years. Sam Rockwell plays both these characters as they face off, unsure whether to trust each other or what to believe. Did the company secretly clone Sam so the clone could continue the workload after he leaves? What if they’re both clones of someone else? If so, whose family is that back home that they both believe is theirs? And is the “retrieval team” that’s coming to take the first Sam home in a few hours really coming for another purpose? Not to mention that they don’t exactly get along with each other to begin with.
This revelation happens pretty early in the movie such that knowing about it in advance won’t change much about how you perceive it. And there are enough intentional hints early on that you’re not nearly as surprised as Sam is when he discovers that he’s just rescued an identical copy of himself beneath that helmet. The premise really comes down to what you might do if you found out that you’ve been cloned, you might also be a clone, and your only hope of any kind of a happy ending is to work with your clone, while increasingly questioning what a “happy ending” for you might even look like.
Rockwell’s two characters take a rather sarcastic approach toward each other, making fun of each other’s weaknesses and questioning each other’s intelligence in a manner which of course reveals that Sam doesn’t think all that much of himself. If you had to deal with your own weaknesses in the third person, just how hard would you be on yourself? In the end, Moon comes down to whether the two Sams can find enough humanity in themselves to treat their other selves accordingly, and whether either of them can find meaning in a life that’s suddenly had the rug pulled out. It’ll have you thinking afterwards about what you might do if you found yourself in a such a scenario, making it the rare movie that may ring more true for you the day after than while you’re watching it.