Sam Bell (played by Sam Rockwell) is an employee contracted by the Korean-based company Lunar Industries to extract helium-3 from lunar soil to fuel nuclear fusion reactors on Earth. He is stationed for a three-year term on the Sarang base, with only a robot named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company, and his only contact with Earth being recorded transmissions he occasionally receives from his wife and three-year-old daughter. Two weeks before completing his assignment, he begins to hallucinate, causing him to crash a lunar rover into one of the helium-3 harvesters.Then it gets worse.The first feature film directed by Duncan Jones (David Bowie's son), Moon was shown at the 2009 Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, and has received a lot of critical acclaim. It has also been praised for scientific accuracy, being screened at NASA's Space Center in Houston at the request of one of the professors there, due to its feature of helium-3 mining. Dad is reportedly very proud.
MAJOR SPOILERS follow. As the film depends heavily on twists and reveals for its impact, spoilers are unavoidable. If you want to keep your surprise (trust us: you do), watch the film first, then come back here. And don't click any of the icons on the top of the page. You Have Been Warned.
Advertised Extra: Kaya Scodelario as teenage Eve receives top billing despite having only a minute or two of screen time. To a lesser extent, Dominique McElligott, who plays Tess, is only seen in a handful of flashbacks and videos.
Justified as the only actors who have any significant screen time are Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Subverted excellently. The production sets up GERTY as a close cousin of HAL 9000 from 2001, and seems to be keeping a terrible secret from Sam. In the end, however, GERTY was programmed to help Sam, not protect the mining operation. When Sam begins to figure things out, GERTY helps him do that as well.
Artificial Gravity: Outside the base, gravity on the lunar surface is appropriately low, but inside the base it appears to be standard Earth gravity. The DVD commentary admits this was done for practical reasons.
Artistic License - Astronomy: Mostly averted, what with it being a very hard sci-fi film. However, an early version of the film poster (such as the one on this page) carried the tagline "950,000 miles from home, the hardest thing to face... is yourself". The moon's distance from Earth varies between about 226,000 and 253,000 miles over the course of its orbit. Later posters fixed the error.
Bittersweet Ending: Sam 1 dies at the end of the film, while watching Sam 2 escape back to Earth. The ending voice over implies the evil scheme is revealed, but even if the clones do end up gaining some measure of freedom, they only have three years to live.
Debatable. Word Of God says the clones were engineered to last three years because that's how long the contract lasted; this limitation might be removed. Even if it can't, a number of years have passed since the base was established, and it is conceivable that medicine has marched on enough to make them live longer. Besides, once the whole world knows about them, more people than just an evil megacorp's R&D department would be trying to give them a new life.
Actually, the "three year lifespan" could be interpreted to being semi-exposed to cosmic radiation for three years.
Brain Uploading: Sort of. Sam has "memory implants"; "Uploaded, edited memories of the original Sam Bell." We're not sure what or what doesn't get uploaded though.
The Cake Is a Lie: Sam may have a three-year contract, but he isn't really meant to go home. Ever.
Cell Phones Are Useless: Satellite failure and the fact that he's stationed on the far side of the moon prevents real-time contact with Earth — except that's just a cover story. Once he gets far enough away from the base, he makes a perfectly real-time video phone call.
Actually, in the scene where he's making the direct call, you can see Earth just above the horizon—so he drove far enough to reach the edge of the "near" side that faces Earth.
Clone Degeneration: Each clone breaks down after three years. The DVD commentary states Lunar Industries figured three years was the longest they could expect someone to "want" to work on an isolated moon base, so they designed the clones to last just that long. It leads to use of Blood from the Mouth and I'm Cold... So Cold....
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Lunar Industries appears to be run by them. They apparently have no moral qualms with creating a reserve army of slave labour and covering it up back on Earth.
Crapsaccharine World: Oil has been replaced with more sustainable renewable energy sources. Which is great if you're living on Earth, but it kind of sucks if you're the movie's main character...
Creepy Monotone: GERTY's voice isn't quite monotone, but it's always very mild and soothing. It's only the fact that he's a robot in a sci-fi story (and his resemblance to a certain other famous AI) makes him seem untrustworthy to the viewer.
Cyber Cyclops: GERTY sees the world through a HAL-esque camera lens, but he speaks to Sam through a digital smiley face that changes through a variety of simple expressions. Yields an unsettling contrast between the caricatured simplicity of his avatar and the unfathomable, expressionless eye.
The Danza: Sam Bell, played by Sam Rockwell. The part was written specifically for Rockwell after he expressed an interest in science fiction.
Deface of the Moon: We see more than one shot of the tracks the harvesters are leaving behind. They're on the far side of the moon to avoid visibly defacing the moon from an Earthbound perspective, and to avoid confusing wildlife.
Dying Alone: Alone, and isolated on the far side of the moon, and with the knowledge that your entire "life" is a sham. Ouch.
Economy Cast: To the point it borders on Minimalist Cast. The only character we really see "live" in shot is Sam — everyone else appears on a video screen or in a flashback, is a robot, or is in a silhouetted suit. If it wasn't for Kevin Spacey's voice acting, this would be a film starring one person.
Enforced Method Acting: Accidental. Practically the entire film was filmed on a moon base set which was built as a single unit and entirely closed in. This led to cast and crew feeling trapped and isolated — exactly what the story was going for.
Faking the Dead: Not exactly "faking", but Sam 1 volunteers to be left in the crashed rover, so that the "rescue team" wouldn't realize Sam 2 was escaping.
Sam #1 (On Sam #2): He's really angry. He actually kind of scares me.
GERTY: What is it about Sam that scares you?
Sam #1: How he flies off the handle. I can see what Tess was talking about.
Sam #2: I've got a temper. I need to do something about it.
Sam #1: Yeah, you do.
Heroic Sacrifice: Both Sam and GERTY, in some form. Sam 1 sacrifices his life, and GERTY his memory, to allow Sam 2 the chance to get home.
Hollywood Healing: Early on in the movie, Sam burns the back of his hand when he turns the water on too hot and puts a bandage on over it. After he crashes the rover, the bandage inconspicuously disappears. Subverted in that it's actually Freeze FrameForeshadowing to there being more than one Sam; when Sam 2 retrieves Sam 1 from the crash, Sam 1 still has the bandage on.
Sam 1's head injury is also another clue towards this.
At the beginning of the film, Sam wears a shirt that says "Wake me when it's QUITTING TIME." It is later shown that every Sam clone is equipped with one of these shirts. The phrase itself is a pretty sick joke. Each clone will be woken up when it's "quitting time" for the previous one.
The use of "I Am the One and Only" as his alarm is pretty sick too. At first it's was ironic because he is literally alone on the station, but it later becomes even more ironic.
Not So Different: Sam comes to realise that he and Gerty are more similar than he first assumed.
The Other Darrin: Not exactly used, but the Trope Namer is referenced. At one point we see a clip of Bewitched being played, where two character are discussing Darrin. Darrin was of course... replaced.
Peace & Love Incorporated: Sarang is the biggest supplier of clean helium-3 energy to 70% of the world. Their name is even the Korean word for "love".
Pompous Political Pundit: The film had a talk radio host who sounded a lot like Rush Limbaugh at the very end ( after Sam returns to Earth in an ore hopper, and supposedly tells the world what happened to him up there), who ridicules Sam's story thusly:
You know what, he's one of two things. He's a whacko or an illegal immigrant. Either way, they need to lock him up. Line two!
Red Herring: GERTY is intentionally designed to resemble 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL 9000 (right down to the Creepy Monotone) so that the audience immediately suspects that he is evil. In fact, he is the closest thing that the Sam clones have to a friend, and he ultimately helps Sam 2 escape the lunar station to start a new life on Earth. "Tess" is the one that you should be wary of.
Retirony: Sam has two weeks left before he can go home... to a wife that's dead and a baby daughter whose entire childhood he missed. And then the rover crash occurs and things get worse.
Ridiculously Human Robots: Yes and no. While GERTY takes the form of a mobile entertainment center with two disembodied arms, he also appears capable of genuine human emotion, to the point of a comforting shoulder rub. He can't lie worth a damn, though he does have a "shifty eyes" emoticon to show when he's "thinking" about something.
Robot Buddy: GERTY plays the trope to somewhat creepy effect with his monotonous voice and suspiciously placating demeanor, but in the end he really is just there to help Sam.
The model-miniatures were filmed at a frame rate calculated to simulate one-sixth gravity when played back at normal speed.
The computer-generated dust and debris from the harvesters is likewise animated to reflect the lower gravity and lack of atmosphere.
They're harvesting on the far side of the moon to avoid changing the reflectivity of the Earth-facing side, which might mess-up nocturnal wildlife on Earth.
The base is so rugged because it was built using lunar materials. Very little of the building materials were actually flown up from Earth.
The rescue ship's design reflects the need to pick up harvesters for repairs.
Earth is visible when Sam makes his video-phone call to Earth because he had to drive the harvester around the curve of the moon to get line-of-sight for radio.
Simple Score of Sadness: The main theme is rather fast-paced (though still simplistic), but it slows down for the main dramatic moments.
Space Is Noisy: Mostly averted. Wide exterior shots on the moon are mostly silent. We do hear some noises in close-ups — the engine noise of the rovers, rocks falling in the wake of the harvesters, hatches opening, and so on — but this could be justified in that they have the POV of a human in a pressurized compartment.
Stock Footage: The "commercial" for Lunar Industries at the start of the film contains mostly stock footage, because the indie film production couldn't afford anything else.
Straw Man Political: The radio Talk Show host at the end is implied to be the conservative version. The final line of the movie is, "You know what, he's one of two things. He's a wacko or an illegal immigrant — and either way, they need to lock him up. Line two!"
Hmm... It can't really be a suicide since they don't realise that once they get in the box they will be killed.
Super Cell Reception: Sam is able to make video cell-phone calls from the Moon to Earth once he gets past the signal jammers, at least.
Tears from a Stone: Sort of. After GERTY tells Sam the truth, his avatar becomes a sad face, and then sheds a few crudely animated tears. Important in that it's the first sign that GERTY genuinely cares about Sam.
Thrown Out The Airlock: Not quite, but Sam is very nearly spaced when the rover crashes and is depressurized. Luckily he gets his helmet on in time.
The Tooth Hurts: Sam starts losing his teeth (and vomiting blood) as his short-lived clone body breaks down.
Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer shows two Sams, though it does not provide any sort of indication of the actual plot twists. However, it's cut alongside several clear hallucinations, making it look like Sam is either trippin' balls or some sort of Solaris thing is going on.
Twenty Minutes into the Future: The film takes place in the not-too-distant future in which 70% of the world's energy is generated by fusion mined from lunar helium-3. We've also got the technology to mass-produce clones with three-year lifespans and memories inserted from another person.
Unobtainium: Helium-3, which is actually abundant in the lunar regolith and is considered a plausible energy source.
What Do You Mean, It's Not Symbolic?: The four harvesters are named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Inverted, since screenwriter Nathan Parker insists it really wasn't symbolic; he just needed four names and the Evangelists came to mind. If he'd thought a little longer, he could just as easily have called them John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Which Me?: Sometimes happens in Real Life analysis of the movie, as Sam 1 and Sam 2 are actually the fifth and sixth clones to be revived. Earlier drafts of the script actually called them "Sam 5" and "Sam 6", but the filmmakers switched to "Sam 1" and "Sam 2" to make things clearer. And either way, "Sam 1" is still a clone; there's a regular human who came first, called "Original Sam" by the filmmakers.
You Can't Go Home Again: Played straight, subverted, averted... call it deconstructed. All of the Sams are on the far side of the moon and desperately want to return home to wife and daughter. Sam 1 (and his predecessor clones) never make it. Sam 2 (and maybe his successor clones) do, but their lives are a lie — they aren't the "real" Sam; there's nothing to return to. Even if there was, they won't live to enjoy much of it. And Original Sam did his time on the moon and returned home for real — which set up the clones in the first place.
You Need to Get Laid: Sam says this exact phrase to GERTY once. The joke is that he's a completely inhuman robot, at least aesthetically.
After that, a smiling face appears on GERTY's display!