The brainchild of Duncan Jones – aka Zowie ‘my dad’s David’ Bowie – Moon is a career-defining movie for Sam Rockwell, who puts in a revelatory performance as moon miner Sam Bell, the sole human presence on a lunar base maintained by a computer.

On the far side of the moon, Lunar Industries employee Sam oversees the harvesting of the Helium-3 isotope, which has become humanity’s primary fuel source. Four enormous automated machines, each named after one of the Gospels, rumble over the lunar surface, chewing up rock.

Sam is nearing the end of a three year haul, just two weeks from fulfilling his contract and going home. Long-haired, bearded and a little cracked, he talks to himself as he counts down the days, with only the occasional video message from his wife and daughter to sustain him. His sole companion is the base computer, GERTY, a descendant of 2001’s HAL, voiced by Kevin Spacey.

When Sam crashes a moon buggy while attempting a routine repair, he wakes up in sick bay with no recollection of the accident. Disobeying company orders he sets out on a salvage mission and drags a body from the cockpit – only to find that he has rescued his own clone. Now he really is talking to himself. But these are two very different Sams: one the kooky veteran moon-dweller and the other, himself as he was three years ago – a crew-cutted space jock with anger management issues.

Between them, the Sams gradually uncover the truth: they are just the latest in a long line of clones manufactured by their employer, their illusory selfhood hinging on recycled memories and replays of long-obsolete family messages. Moon asks the question: how much can you take away from a person before they cease to be a person at all? It also has timely things to say, in the post-Facebook age, about how dependent we are on mediated experience and received narratives to create meaning.

Anyone who grew up in the ’70s will recognise Moon’s vision of the future. Largely CGI-free, it takes its aesthetic from period films and TV series – from Silent Running to Space 1999 – and from Andre Tarkovsky’s existential space drama Solaris, as well as the obvious sci-fi landmarks by the likes of Ridley Scott and Stanley Kubrick. The scenes on the moon’s surface have a grainy quality reminiscent of vintage NASA footage, while the technology – all trundling box buggies throwing up moon dust – has a prosaic, Corgi-toy functionality. The grinding tedium and loneliness of lunar living are brilliantly evoked.

This sense of revisiting a golden era also applies to Moon‘s directorial style. Though never ponderous, the film takes such a spare, slow-burning approach to storytelling, and employs such economy of means, it harks back to a time when less really was more.

The story of the castaway who comes face to face with himself is in the long tradition of the ‘Robinsonade’ stretching back to Defoe’s original Crusoe. Moon takes this idea and runs with it. And in using the clone theme to explore the relationship between experience, memory and identity, it picks up where Bladerunner left off.

But while it wears its influences proudly, Moon is no replicant.  It’s the product of a singular talent, and a mainstream film of rare emotional gravity. Jones and Rockwell have delivered one of the most achingly sad films in years – a heartrending essay in loss.

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