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. "Moon"

In one of the more intriguing visions of future technology, this distopian/utopian sci-fi thriller dares to suppose the use of human cloning for industrial purposes. Imagine a mining operation on the moon for Helium-3, an element that has become Earth's primary energy fuel. Imagine it being operated and maintained by one astronaut and a HAL-like robot named Gerty who's primary interest is the well-being of its human inhabitant, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell).

This is beyond lonely and Sam, nearing the end of his contract with Lunar Industries for a three-year commitment, is going stir-crazy. Though he's hanging on, his ability to calmly attend to his duties on moon base Sarang is being sorely tested.

Receiving video mail from his sweet wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) is like a fix for his elevated anxiety and he's long past complaining about the glitch in the system that prevents him from responding to her with a return message. He lives for the day he can hold her and their three-year old daughter Eve (Kaya Scodelario) and directly express his love.

In the meanwhile, he's got Gerty, an ever-present hunk of robotic circuitry that attends his needs with tools and an artificial intelligence that's so advanced it expresses emotion along with its technologic control of the operation. Unctuously voiced by Kevin Spacey, this metallic "command center" declares its concern for Sam's well-being with the consistencly of a programmed machine, its only interface being a changing smily face display that indicates its moods and other states of "mind," like confusion.

Despite the approaching end of his term and what one might assume a happier time for Sam, his increasing depression is just one symptom of general deterioration. In an attempt to escape his headaches, he dons his spacegear, exits through the airlock and gets into one of two armored lunar rovers outside for a survey of the installation. He drives past the H-3 harvester and a tall antenna tower before his hallucinations get the better of him, causing an accident in which he passes out.

SPOILERS AHEAD, enter at your own risk
Back inside, Sam seems fully restored. In fact, he seems a stranger to the base. After looking around, he exits the airlock and gets into the second rover where his survey takes him to the accident scene. He finds a helmetted man in spacegear, possibly dead or close to it. Looking closer, the man seems to look just like him. Lifting him out, he carries the inert form to the medical bay, inside the station. As Sam #1 comes to, the mystery of their identities (and functions) first develops as a contest about who is the real Sam Bell and which is the clone.

Soon, however, after Sam #2 expresses his anger and disrespect by destroying Sam #1's hobby construction in an effort to locate what he's convinced is a missing room, they both realize they have the same memories and that both are clones. Ultimately finding the missing room, they uncover the solution by discovering a vast underground unit that contains dozens if not hundreds of Sam Bell clones awaiting animation by, presumably, Gerty.

While it's now apparent that the manning of the station is designed to be exclusively and forevermore by clones, it is clear and a little tragic that there is two of them at one time. The geniuses who created this alternative world never foresaw the possibility of an accident causing the robot to bring in the next Sam in the lineup before the demise of the previous one. And, this causes a critical break in the company's blueprint for sustained human maintenance of the mining station.

This, of course, calls for a demanding acting challenge, and Rockwell, in a one-man tour d'force, knocks it beyond gravity. This often underrated actor engages us in rapt concentration as director Duncan Jones' rather extraordinary concept (with screenplay by Nathan Parker) evolves into a mystery about man's destiny.

As a mystery of identity, it brings to mind Patrick McGoohan's 1967 TV series, "The Prisoner." The idea that human cloning could reach such a machine-like application as this is horrendous and, clearly, distopian. But it's framed by something rather utopian, namely, what this moon station is all about: the element that will provide the new source of clean energy that we, in the early 21st century, are yearning for.

It therefore may be relevant to presume that an underlying message may well be an unavoidable tension between good and bad, the yin and yang forces of the universe at work. A grand scheme that is unpredictable lends this vision a greater sense of credibility than your prevailing films of future worlds. It has the taste of a Philip K. Dick adaptation ("Blade Runner," "Minority Report") and, for that, Jones scores a big pat on the back. The imagery of the surface of our planetary satellite is a production coup for which all visual departments should take a bow, not the least for cinematographer Gary Shaw's very effective contribution.

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The shock that these clones only have an effective clock time of three years is another perception that gives us a jolt about technology's progressive possibilities at a cost. Nothing artificial and unnatural comes for free. Except this movie which, beyond the price of admission, is astutely imagined as a futuristic thriller with formidable impact--a dark and well thought out moonscape in what we may hope is pure fantasy.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Sam Rockwell is Sam Bell
An astronaut with followers.

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