Science-fiction filmmaking built from brains rather than balls is an increasing rarity; finding it hitting screens deep into June is a near impossibility. Duncan Jones’s directorial debut, Moon, a cleverly low-fi one-man-show for Sam Rockwell tinged with philosophical overtones, may well ride its singularity to a level of praise its overall modesty and cheeky aesthetics don’t really aim for, but that’s not really the movie’s fault. We could use more speculations like Moon—as the expiration dates on our genre landmarks pass by without fulfilling their fictive promises (2001’s come and gone; Blade Runner’s 2014 is fast approaching and replicants, save perhaps the cast of The Hills, are barely a glimmer on the horizon), our collective imagination needs a bit of a refresh. It also doesn’t hurt to have an early summer reminder that science fiction needn’t just be action filmmaking peppered with spaceships and stun guns and time warps. Sci-fi’s supposed to run on ideas, and thankfully Moon has more than a few.
Rockwell plays Sam Bell, some kind of bedraggled space miner who’s signed up to a three-year contract on the moon watching over a quartet of massive vehicles that plumb the satellite’s crust for Helium3, a crucial ingredient in fueling the clean fusion energy revolution back on Earth. (This setup is dispatched by the somewhat less than credible mock energy infomercial that opens the film.) Aside from a few faces on monitors, Sam’s is the only human form we encounter for the duration of the film. Jones does a clean, efficient job establishing Sam’s routine, focusing just enough on details—his preferred breakfast, the forlorn videos he records to send home to his wife and child, the model village he’s painstakingly assembled—to sketch out in brief daily life in this depopulated, largely automated mining colony. Here, Jones invokes, of all films, Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, in that things are obviously already somewhat awry by the time we hear Sam’s first awkward and lonely dispatch to his masters back on Earth—remember that Akerman hints that her heroine’s routine is slightly off right at the beginning, when Jeanne forgets to turn the light off following the arrival of her first john.