The best way to see Moon is to go in blank: no expectations, no preconceptions, and no suspicions.
Theoretically, I guess, that's the best way to see any movie—but in an age of YouTube movie trailers and publicity campaigns that precede films' releases by months or years, it's hardly likely. "I really do believe that there is nothing quite as much fun as seeing a really good film, knowing nothing about it," British director Duncan Jones says. "But is it that realistic? Probably not."
Well... okay. But all the same, I've still been warning friends away from watching the trailer for Jones' new film Moon, telling them—just as I'm about to tell you—that the less you know going into Moon, the better. So stop reading this. Go see it.
Ah, but here you are, still reading, so I guess you need some convincing. Fine. The basics: Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is stationed, alone, on the Moon. Nearing the end of his multi-year contract to man a largely automated mining facility, Sam works as a glorified handyman, wanders the base's empty hallways, watches videos of his wife and daughter back on Earth (Dominique McElligott and Kaya Scodelario), and talks with the base's kinda-sweet, kinda-creepy computer, GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Rockwell's Sam is a likeable, blue-collar guy with a lonely, shitty job, and in Moon's opening scenes, Jones gracefully captures the guy's weary isolation. You feel for Sam—which makes it all the more messed up when things, well, start to get all weird.
"I'm a serious, high-level geek," Jones laughs when I ask about his inspiration for Moon. "A high priest in the Church of Geek. I was very much into science fiction growing up—read lots of Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard and William Gibson and other authors... one of my early memories is seeing films like Outland and Silent Running and a lot of the science-fiction films that we we're paying homage to in Moon."
Moon does have its influences—most notably, that Holy Grail of science-fiction cinema, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey—but to write off Moon as a mere mash-up belies all that the smart, intriguing, and affecting film offers. "It's frustrating, but kind of funny," Jones says of early responses to Moon. "Anyone who hasn't seen the film makes so many assumptions about knowing what the film is gonna be! And then anyone who has seen the film says, 'No! You know what? This is actually something really new and kinda cool, and it does reflect all of these old films, but it is something different.'"
It is. Moon—which is written by Nathan Parker, based on a story by Jones—has elements of drama, mystery, comedy, adventure, and even horror. "Most of it came together quite organically," Jones says, regarding the film's disparate elements. "One thing I can absolutely give Sam Rockwell credit for is bringing a bit of humor into it." Pointing out that the cast had a week of rehearsals before shooting—a rarity for an independent film like Moon—Jones notes that Rockwell's improv helped shape the film's tone. "As dark as we might get into the subject matter of the film," he says, "it was important to have those moments of levity."
"One of the reasons this film really is worth seeing, from my point of view, is the performance that Sam Rockwell has in it," Jones continues. "I mean, it is really an impressive, amazing performance—something that he himself is incredibly proud of."
Rockwell's strong performance is counterbalanced by Spacey's striking voicework, as he gives a strange sort of soul to GERTY. "GERTY is very much a reaction to HAL from 2001," Jones says, adding that as soon as he and Parker realized comparisons between GERTY and HAL would pop up, they decided to subvert audience expectations. Enter Spacey. "There's a timbre to his voice and a way that he speaks which is kind of enticing," Jones says, "but at the same time, you can really easily think that maybe it's malevolent."
In a genre with too many CG-filled epics—it's hard for studios to justify making small science-fiction dramas like Moon when flashy sci-fi blockbusters like Transformers will make more in a day than Moon will in 50 years—it's something to be grateful for that Moon is getting a wide release. Even better is the fact that Jones' next project sounds like another which will stand on its own even as it acknowledges what's come before—Jones says his next project will take place in a future version of Berlin, and have a "Blade Runner feel." I'll be there on opening day. Possibly wearing earplugs and a blindfold, right up until the movie starts.