Stanley Kubrick never made an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. If he had, it might have looked something like “Moon.”
Duncan Jones’ debut, a science-fiction film both intelligent and poignant, is good enough to stand comparison with both those greats. “Moon” also makes it clear that while the former commercial director is the son of a creative icon — David Bowie — Mr. Jones is talented enough to make an extraordinary name for himself.
Sam Rockwell gives one of those performances destined to be described as a tour de force as Sam Bell, who single-handedly mans a station on the far side of the moon. Sam’s work involves mining Helium-3 from lunar rock, a process that has solved Earth’s energy crisis (as we learn in a clever mock commercial appended to the beginning of the film). Sam has just two weeks left on his three-year contract, and the isolation is taking its toll. He can’t even communicate with his wife and daughter in real time because the system is broken; he sends and receives video messages. “I’m talking to myself on a regular basis. So, time to go home,” he concludes.
Actually, he seems to be hallucinating as well, which concerns the only other intelligence on the station. Gerty is the computer that helps Sam keep the place running. Voiced by Kevin Spacey, he sounds a lot like Hal from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Gerty can express some emotion, though not with his modulated voice — he displays a yellow face that looks happy, sad or whatever feeling the computer might be said to have.
Shortly after Sam exhibits the first signs of a mental breakdown, he has an accident in a rover on the satellite’s surface and wakes up in the infirmary, not certain what has happened to him. This is where the film really gets interesting — which is why it would ruin a very enjoyable experience to reveal any of the surprising events that follow.
Suffice it to say, Mr. Rockwell more than carries the film, with a nuanced performance that speaks volumes about the fears of alienation and corruption that always seem to accompany our literature about the future. Sam’s only solace is tending his plants, which he does to the sound of the tender second movement of Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp. The beautiful, stark images of space add to the melancholy.
“Moon” is an homage to the science fiction of the late 1960s and 1970s, and the film looks a lot like the late Mr. Kubrick’s “2001” with its minimalist sets. (Who knew they’d still be using the Clapper in the future?) There’s even a line — to quote it would give the film away — that echoes the most famous one from 1973’s “Soylent Green,” which apparently is being remade.
Mr. Jones proves, however, that one can take the best of the past and put one’s own stamp on it to create a very thoughtful work of art.
RATING: R (language)
CREDITS: Directed by Duncan Jones. Screenplay by Nathan Parker from an original story by Mr. Jones.
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
WEB SITE: sonypictures.com/classics/moon
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS