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The Year We Made No Contact

Moon (2009)

Mark Tille/Sony Pictures Classics

Sam Rockwell faces an enormous challenge in “Moon,” an existential science-fiction drama from Duncan Jones (better known as Zowie Bowie), son of Ziggy Stardust himself. The actor plays Sam Bell, a futuristic astronaut completing a three-year stint living alone on a lunar base, working to mine the moon of clean energy for a giant corporation. Remarkably, aside from the occasional flashback, there’s not a single other character in the movie save for a robot named Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey), until another Sam Bell (also played by Mr. Rockwell) shows up.

Mr. Rockwell excels at the burdensome task of playing against himself, giving one of his most heartfelt performances. He successfully imbues the Sams with sharply contrasting personas and constructs between them a relationship rife with the subtleties and deeply-felt emotions of a close friendship. The psychological toll of such significant loneliness comes across in the urgency with which Sam 1 receives his communiqués from Earth and the gregarious nature of his interactions with Gerty, his sole companion. Few other actors currently working could more adeptly reveal the contradictory feelings brewing beneath a misleadingly strong exterior, lending the first Sam’s charismatic good humor and the second Sam’s tough-guy persona the gravitas that comes from a place of profound vulnerability.

This is Mr. Rockwell’s show, but it’s also an auspicious debut for Mr. Jones. Within the sterile, blindingly pallid world of the lunar base, bedecked in the same sort of clunky futuristic décor frequently seen in genre entries from the 1950s to '70s, he has made a film that’s both suspenseful and thought provoking, in the best sci-fi tradition. “Moon” skillfully connects the character-driven focus on Sam’s day-to-day routine and his disintegrating psyche with a broader topical agenda that directly addresses, without moralizing, a primary ethical dilemma of our time.

To further keep the audience invested in the plight of the Sams, Mr. Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker lend the minutiae of his daily existence an unsettlingly foreboding feel. To retain his humanity amid the overarching, impersonal sameness of the isolated computerized world he inhabits seems an impossible struggle. The specter of that losing battle, unfolding on the dark side of the moon, transforms this small film with one actor into a tragedy of epic, affecting proportions.


Opens on June 12 in New York and on July 17 in Britain.

Directed by Duncan Jones; written by Nathan Parker, based on a story by Mr. Jones; director of photography, Gary Shaw; edited by Nicolas Gaster; music by Clint Mansell; production designer, Tony Noble; produced by Stuart Fenegan and Trudie Styler; released by Sony Pictures Classics. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Sam Rockwell (Sam Bell), Kevin Spacey (voice of Gerty) and Dominique McElligott (Tess Bell).


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