Genre: Sci-Fi, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey
Director: Duncan Jones
Some know me as something of a sci-fi fan but I seem to belong that dying breed of those who enjoy intelligent sci-fi, which always struck me as a little puzzling given the wealth of possibilities open for exploration and yet rarely utilised. Increasingly I find my interest is more readily captivated by novels and films gone by than the increasingly prevalent tendency to rely upon action and special effects to make themselves known, which is all precisely what made this sound so intriguing. Following the tale of Sam Bell (Rockwell), an astronaut left in isolation aboard a lunar base in charge of maintaining the operation of He3 harvesters used to supply the Earth with its growing demand for energy, he soon falls prey to a crash which leaves him incapacitated aboard his rover; his form of transport across the moons desolate surface. Awakening back aboard the base without memory of what took place, he quickly escapes to explore the crash site only to discover that he may not have been the first Sam Bell to reside aboard the Lunar Base.
I first saw Rockwell perform in “Hitch-Hikers Guide,” another Sci-Fi film where he played a role of an entirely different nature, and naturally his choice of the lead role in a film where he also happens to be the only role felt worrying for a first time director but any fear is quickly put to rest when we start exploring the two clones; the three year old Sam Bell injured and tired from his long ordeal made all the worse by the slow discovery of the truth behind the operation he's been a part of, played off against the far more headstrong and aggressive week old Sam Bell having yet to be weathered and worn down by the unending loneliness on the lunar base. Between the efforts of the director and actor, two distinctly similar and yet different characters emerge and the effect of prolonged loneliness and isolation and the toll it takes upon someone, along with the exploration and reflection of their own identity, becomes all the more apparent given that subtle contrast.
The closest we come to another character is the AI that co-inhabits the house, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) who in a true “HAL9000” homage is not as he seems either; more than a simple robot but torn between his programming or 'orders' from the company that constructed him and his friendship – and I do mean this in every Wall-E and Blade Runner sense of the word – to his human companion, and despite moments where we suspect him of maliciously hiding secrets from Sam, and times where his inhumanity become apparent in the repeated phrases and inability to lie, it ultimately only serves to further the emphasis that this is the closest thing he has to a friend aboard the base.
The continuity throughout the film is nothing if not impressive; the subtle differences between the characters and developments that occur later in the film hinted at throughout but never in such a manner as to make it obvious, adding a certain sense of plausibility to the proceedings as we uncover new information and revelations alongside our 'two' protagonists. And with a soundtrack composed by Clint Mansell, a man who rarely makes a misstep and for whom based on his work with Aronofsky this seems like a natural fit, he performs in a manner that if not reaching the memorable peaks of “Requiem for a Dream” certainly does nothing to hinder his growing reputation.
When I try to think of other films to put this into context I find myself reverting to the classics; 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, THX-1138, and without exaggeration this is the league it finds itself in, with only perhaps 'Gattaca' or 'Man From Earth' from recent years coming close to the heights of what this accomplishes. With all the focus of late being on action, the essence of what makes sci-fi interesting is lost; it's not all explosions and lasers but an exploration of what the future may hold, and its this plausibility that has always fascinated me; not simply taking for granted all the new technology at peoples disposal but how that technology has impacted the sociology of society – or not as the case may be – and the humanity of their situation; Blade Runner's philosophising about the point at which AI becomes human, or THX-1138's defiance of a society designed to keep the safe to the point of patronisation. And constructed on just $5 million this film proves once again that no measure of special effects or explosions can match up to a team that know what they're doing. Jones' portrayal of the future is not a positive one, nor is it a dystopian one. It lies in that certain shade of grey, that like this film, feels all too human.