Moon – Philosopher’s at the Cinema

With a new year comes a new season of Philosophers at the Cinema, curated by Dr. Rupert Read. Over the next few weeks, Cinema City will be showing two more films chosen and introduced by members of UEA faculty, this year’s theme being ‘The Double.’ The other two films shown will be The Prestige on 9 February and Looper at a later date. But first, we have Moon.


Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, has something of a retro feel, both thematically and cinematically. The story harks back to the cerebral science fiction films of the 60s and 70s, recalling the like of 2001: A Space Odyssey and particularly Silent Running (the latter was shown during the last season of Philosophers at the Cinema). To paraphrase Dr. Vincent M. Gaine, who introduced the film, what we have here is a journey into outer-space framing a journey into inner-space.

Cinematically, the film makes extensive use of miniatures and models, rather than relying on CGI as so many films do these days. Naturally, CGI is still used, but it is done in conjunction with other modes of special effect, creating a feel which is both classic and modern. Indeed, it is worth seeing this film simply for how striking the visuals are. The music should also be mentioned, composed by Clint Mansell; the main theme to this film (which is accompanying me as I write) is one of my favourite movie themes. I strongly suggest you give it a listen; it is a beautiful piece of ambient music, and is interwoven with the film perfectly.

The plot is one a simple one, yet it offers the viewer a great vista of themes and unanswered questions. Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) plays the sole inhabitant of the mining colony ‘Sarang,’ whose only companion is the base computer GERTY (smoothly voiced by Kevin Spacey in a performance that calls to mind Douglas Rain’s voicing of HAL 9000). After an accident at one of the colossal, automated mining machines, he finds himself confronted with his doppelgänger. Over the course of the film, both versions of Bell attempt to come to terms with and understand the nature of the situation that they are in. Rockwell, who carries the film with ease, plays both versions of the character skilfully and sympathetically. It is one of the best performances in any recent sci-fi film.

The film calls into question the nature of personal identity, a question that philosophy has been grappling with for longer than anyone would care to remember, and deals with the ambiguity of human personhood. Of particular interest is the suggestion that the human agent has been subsumed into a system which has rendered them somehow less-than-human, leaving them more of a component than a living thing (we might be tempted to call this system ‘capitalism’ but one could justifiably say that it is ‘technology’ that is on trial). This is not to say that the film is obvious or hopeless. Throughout, Rockwell’s character fixates on his approaching journey back home to earth, his isolation from his wife and young daughter weighing heavily upon his soul, the suggestion herein being, perhaps, the impossibility of truly obliterating the humanity of the human.

The passage of time and the relationship that has with our sense of identity also plays an important role. Are we the same person that we were three, five, ten years ago? Speaking purely for myself, as someone who is nearing the end of their time at university, when I reflect on how much I have changed in the span of only a few years, I find it remarkable to think that I and the person who arrived at UEA in 2011 are one-and-the-same. Questions and feelings such as these are dealt with by Moon with aplomb. It is never condescending to its audience, nor is it in a rush to explain anything. We don’t have any clumsy exposition, no conveniently over-heard conversations about recent history, or characters discussing things purely for the sake of letting the audience know what kind of world they are in. The film shows us the world it is in, and that is all that we really need.

It is a rare film indeed that doesn’t assume its audience needs to have its hand held.


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August 2021
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