In the brooding science-fiction trifle Moon, Sam Rockwell plays a solitary corporate astronaut who is finishing three lonely years on the dark side of the lunar surface. His name is Sam Bell, and his job is to oversee the mining of helium-3, which has become Earth’s primary source of energy. In a dankly gritty geodesic space station, which might just as well be a prison, Sam has no one to talk to but a computer named Gerty — an amusing satirical homage to HAL in 2001, with a voice, all playful self-pity, provided by Kevin Spacey. (Sam also passes time making video calls to his wife and daughter.) But then, on an expedition outside the station, Sam finds what looks like another, wounded astronaut. Actually, it’s a younger version of himself — a clone. Now there are two Sams. And whoa, do they have a lot to talk about.
The double role suits Rockwell perfectly — in fact, it suits him a little too well. As an actor, he has always played flakes, screwups, and boyishly dazed myopic nutjobs. Sometimes he’s been crazy-goofy (Choke, Box of Moonlight), sometimes crazy-lethal (Snow Angels, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), but what defines nearly every Rockwell performance is its charming/annoying solipsistic quality. Shaggy and horsey-handsome, he’s like a man-child hypnotized by his own brain waves, and while this makes him a magnetic highflier, it also means that he never entirely connects with anyone on screen. In Moon, Rockwell battles his double with a kind of fulminating acting-class intensity. Is the clone real? Is Sam going mad with isolation? Or is he the victim of a cosmic hallucinatory mind-control scheme — the paranoid pawn in a Philip K. Dick-ian game of Do Astronauts Dream of Electric Clones? You can meditate away, but at bottom the movie is 97 minutes of Sam Rockwell jabbering to himself.
Moon is the first feature to be directed by Duncan Jones, who is David Bowie’s son, and he brings it a grimy industrial look — the future strip-mined of all romance or idealism — as well as witty touches like giving Gerty a smiley-face screen that changes expression in tandem with Spacey’s voice. Jones truly puts you on the moon; he does a technically imaginative job befitting the son of the man who fell to earth. Next time, though, he’d do well to make a movie that breathes as much as it mind-trips. B-