In the not too distant future, Sam (Rockwell) is an astronaut living and working at a base on the dark side of the moon. Its function is to mine helium-3 and send it back to earth as a primary energy source. Sam is there for a 3 year stint, mostly for occasional maintenance, as the station is almost entirely automated and watched over by a computer called GERTY. Communication with earth is done via recorded videos relayed to the base by satellite. As Sam approaches the end of his 3 years on the base, his desire to be back home with his wife and young daughter intensifies, but his mental state seems to be crumbling. He begins experiencing hallucinations, including one that causes him to crash his rover as he drives out to inspect one of the mining machines. He awakes back at the base a bit shaken. Upon returning to the scene of the accident, he makes a discovery that will bring his sanity even more into question.
The first thing you have to do with this movie is overlook the implausibility of the set up. For instance, you might ask, “why would a multi-billion dollar operation that produces the number 1 energy source used on the Earth not have a huge team of employees on site to insure its proper function?” Or, you might say, “how come there seems to be Earth-like gravity in most scenes?” Just accept the situation for what it is, and the ride the movie takes you on will be much more enjoyable.
This movie belongs almost entirely to Sam Rockwell. Its success relies on him creating a likable and believable character for us to care about. He is successful. There is also GERTY which is voiced by Kevin Spacey, channeling his inner HAL 9000. The difference here is that Spacey actually supplies a touch more emotion to his voice, and GERTY sports a small screen with a yellow smiley face that changes its emotions to fit the situation. Watching that face change throughout the film is a whole entertainment unto itself.
This is the first feature film for its director, Duncan Jones, and you can tell he wanted to make a more classic, cerebral kind of sci-fi movie rather than a big action adventure. The budget restrictions may have played some part in that, but the nods to 2001: A Space Odyssey are obvious. It also reminded me of the general tone and emotional content of the movie Solaris. Themes of isolation, confusion, and questioning ones own identity come into play, and Sam Rockwell is equal to the task in all situations.
Having read some plot descriptions and having seen the trailer, I can’t help but feel that maybe a bit too much was given away in those. I found myself easily predicting where the story was going quite early on, though if I hadn’t known anything about the movie prior to it, I doubt I would have seen any of the plot twists coming. Not that it’s some sort of M. Night Shyamalan kind of “gotcha” story. In fact, the reveals are much more drawn out, for the audience and Sam.
Despite its flaws (and a needless little tacked on bit at the end), I found this to be an interesting, clever, and sometimes moving story about loneliness and man’s need for true identity and purpose. It won’t wow you with special effects or big moments, but it might actually make you leave the theater with a few things to think about.
Kevin Spacey’s voice will always be John Doe from Se7en to me.
10 – .8 for that needless little bit that was tacked on at the end – 1.5 for being implausible in some ways + .2 for Sam Rockwell’s performance = 7.9