Moon (R) ***

Dominique McElligott and Sam Rockwell star as the couple separated by about a quarter million miles of space. SONY PICTURES CLASSICS

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

In the near future as depicted in Moon, Earth’s energy crisis has been solved by mining fuel from rocks on the dark side of the moon’s surface. The elaborate operation, which is run by a private company, is almost entirely automated, requiring the supervision of only one person who serves a three-year stint.

Currently holding the job is Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), who has two weeks left before he gets to come home. Sam is eager to see his wife (Dominique McElligott) and young daughter, with whom he has communicated via taped video messages (curiously, his wife says that although she can’t wait to see him, she hopes the time Sam has spent alone has done him some good).

Sam is also eager to have someone to talk to other than Gerty, the robotic assistant that prepares his meals, cuts his hair and speaks to him in the mellifluous voice of Kevin Spacey (doing his best imitation of 2001’s HAL). Gerty is a pleasant companion, for a machine, but ”I’m talking to myself on a regular basis,” Sam says, lamenting his need for simple human interaction.

But as his departure date draws nearer, curious things start to happen: a young woman suddenly materializes in Sam’s favorite chair and then just as quickly vanishes. Was she really there, or is Sam, alone for too long, starting to see things? Moon, which marks the directorial debut of Duncan Jones (until now best known as David Bowie’s son), openly quotes 2001 and Solaris, another science-fiction tale set in outer space that concentrated on the inner space of its characters’ minds.

But Jones’ modest, resolutely focused movie is up to something far different from the motivation driving either of those classics. Moon, which was written by Nathan Parker, cleverly toys with our expectations and the baggage we bring from other sci-fi pictures. We keep waiting for the amiable Gerty to short-circuit and turn against Sam or for alien visitors to knock on his door, either to help him or try to kill him.

Instead, Moon heads elsewhere, becoming a melancholy meditation on loneliness (can you think of a more desolate place than the dark side of the moon?) and man’s eternal struggle to accept mortality. Rockwell, an actor known primarily for playing goofballs and weirdoes, convincingly portrays someone who’s been alone far too long and the terror that accompanies his gradually weakening grip on reality.

There’s a lot more to Rockwell’s performance, but more detail would spoil Moon’s trippy surprises. Most contemporary sci-fi movies come on with all CGI-guns blazing, trying to blow the roof off the theater. Moon settles for trying to blow your mind instead.

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scoledario, Benedict Wong, Kevin Spacey (voice only).

Director: Duncan Jones.

Screenwriter: Nathan Parker.

Producers: Stuart Fenegan, Trudie Styler.

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 97 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. In Miami-Dade: Aventura, CocoWalk, South Beach; in Palm Beach: Jupiter, Delray Beach, Shadowood.


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