“Gerty, they’re not programs, they’re people.” That’s what you would say, too. That is, you would if you were stationed on a mining base on the Moon and the artificial intelligence robot – Gerty — that runs the base and monitors your every move needed to hear it. You see, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey) belongs to Lunar Industries, the private spaceflight and mining company that established the lunar facility. And Lunar is not likely to win an Employer of the Year award anytime soon. Or ever.
That’s because things at the base are not really as they seem, as we’ll see. The place is automated and needs only Gerty and one human, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), to maintain it. Outside the base, a mammoth harvesting vehicle skims the lunar surface and collects Helium-3, a substance that now supplies Earth’s energy needs in place of fossil fuels. Sam’s job is to drive out to the big vehicle in a rover, retrieve canisters of the precious Helium-3, and rocket them to Earth from launch tubes.
Sam is just two weeks away from the end of the three-year hitch he signed up for. Naturally, being alone that long is wearing on him. Gerty, who tends to speak to Sam in condescending tones like those of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, asks him if he’s okay. Sam is talking not only to himself but also to plants that he raises and has given names. He also whittles little buildings for a replica village he’s making. His only entertainment is 1960s-70s TV sitcoms. Most of all, Sam misses his wife Tess (Dominique McElligott) and their toddler Eve (Rosie Shaw), who was born after he went to the Moon. A communications snafu means he can’t talk to Earth; he can only listen to recorded messages from Tess.
So it’s not very surprising that one day Sam hallucinates, albeit briefly, thinking he sees a young lady sitting nearby. Then one night he dreams that he and Tess are in bed and making out. Before long, a waking-moment distraction causes him to crash his vehicle and become seriously injured.
Next, Sam wakes up in the base infirmary. There’s no explanation for how he got back to the base, and he doesn’t remember a crash. Wondering if Gerty is keeping something from him, Sam drives to the crash site and finds – SPOILER ALERT – another Sam unconscious in the wreck. This Sam from the wreck, it turns out, is the Sam we saw in the first part of the movie. The Sam (Robin Chalk) who woke up in the infirmary and has rescued the Sam from the wreck realizes that both of them are clones.
The rescued Sam refuses to believe he’s a clone and insists he’s the real deal. The two Sams have a bloody fight over this. Now comes a scene that wrenchingly portrays all the heartlessness and inhumanity that go into the very notion of cloning human beings: SPOILER ALERT: The rescued Sam asks, “Gerty, am I really a clone?” and is totally crushed to hear a suddenly sympathetic Gerty sadly reply yes and explain that all his memories, including those about Tess and Eve, are merely implanted.
The two Sam clones soon team up and discover a cache of dozens of clones in storage for future use. The two decide Lunar Industries will want to rub out both of them, so they hatch an escape plan. But the rescued Sam’s health now declines rapidly; he is vomiting blood and becoming weak, haggard, and blotchy. It develops that the company programs clones like himself to sicken as their three-year term of usefulness nears. The firm then euthanizes them in a pod under the pretext of sending them home. (Such a pod, of course, is no longer a fanciful creation.)
SPOILER ALERT: Gerty now helps the two Sams, turning out to have a heart, unlike the malevolent Hal in 2001. The rescued Sam, the one the film opened with, says he doesn’t have it in him to take part in any plan that involves murder, which theirs would; so they switch to a plan that instead entails nobility and self-sacrifice. The clones act humanely, unlike their creators! Yes, Gerty, clones are people – not programs, not products, but people. The film ends with a bittersweet climax.
The topic of cloning human beings is fertile ground for dystopian and science fiction films. The 6th Day, The Island and The Matrix, all to be reviewed in our “Signs of Life” series, come to mind. Films about human cloning always portray it as a monstrous thing perpetrated by the bad guys – and it is.
From a pro-life perspective, Moon expertly hits two targets at once: Human cloning and euthanasia. The instant euthanasia posited in this movie actually is more merciful than that which takes place in real life today, in which the death-enthusiast utilitarians dehydrate and starve to death patients over as much as two weeks, as they did with Terri Schiavo in 2005.
The film’s MPAA rating is R for language; cursing and obscenities abound. That’s not all. A man is briefly shown naked from behind in the shower, and later a man awakens after dreaming about foreplay (undies but not quite nudity) with his wife. A man’s appearance worsens as his health declines drastically, and he vomits blood several times. A bloody brawl happens. A man is left for dead. Duncan Jones, son of David Bowie and Angie Bowie, directed. He also wrote the story the film is based on. Nathan Parker wrote the script. Clint Mansell was the composer and Gary Shaw the cinematographer. Nicolas Gaster was film editor. Jane Petrie was the costume designer, Hideki Arichi the art director and Tony Noble the production designer.
— Dan Engler