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
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, 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: Due to the limited number of characters 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.
- 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, and given this fact it might have been a simple typo.
- Ascetic Aesthetic: Sarang
- Asteroid Miners: Although the Moon is a tad bigger than the average asteroid.
- Backup Twin: A whole warehouse of identical backup clones, in fact.
- Big Sleep: The clones think they're being put to sleep for the trip back to Earth. Well, they're half right.
- Bilingual Bonus: The pre-recorded "sleep chamber" technician says "goodbye" in Korean — but the way he says it implies that it is the speaker (the tech) who is leaving, and the listener (Sam) who is staying behind.
- Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: As a result of Clone Degeneration.
- 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.
- Blood from the Mouth: Happens to Sam 1 when his body begins to break down.
- 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.
- Cabin Fever: Sam has this; he's been talking to himself and seeing weird things. He appears to initially believe that the new Sam is this.
- 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: Staged satellite failure and the fact that Sam's stationed on the far side of the moon prevents real-time contact with Earth.
- Clones Are People Too: Both clones act like normal human beings, despite Lunar Industries' treatment of them.
- 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....
- Cloning Blues: What most of the movie deals with.
- The Computer Is Your Friend: GERTY subverts this, despite initial appearances to the contrary.
- 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.
- Curiosity Killed the Cast: More or less averted. Things don't end well for Sam 1, but they weren't going to anyway.
- 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.
- Deadly Euphemism:
- The "rescue team" and "return vehicle".
- Being "put to sleep" for the return ride home.
- 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.
- Double Vision: The classic split screen shot, Over the Shoulder, and some fancy computer effects all get used.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fanservice: We see Sam in the shower. Special mention goes to the many gratuitous shots of Sam's rear end.
- Foreshadowing: In the first scene, Sam is wearing a shirt that says "Wake me when it's quitting time."; later on he comments on talking to himself. Also, the song that's set as the alarm tune: "I'm the one and only".
- Funny Background Event:
- We get occasional brief glimpses of GERTY's back; looking closely reveals a Post-It note reading "Kick Me". Sam 2 makes a point of removing it after giving poor GERTY a forced reboot.
- The base has readouts for four harvesters. Matt, Mark, Luke, and John, Luke, which is broken-down during the entire film, has been crossed-out and "Judas" written-in.
- Genre Savvy: Sam 2 figures out the repeated use of clone employees by Lunar Industries pretty quickly, reasoning that if they're so cheap they haven't repaired the long-range communications satellite, they won't want to waste money on training more employees.
- Granola Guy: Three years of solitude has apparently turned Sam from a Hair-Trigger Temper hothead to this.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Sam #2 and he knows it.
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 Frame Foreshadowing 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.
- Homage: According to creator Duncan Jones, he deliberately tried to recreate the look, style and feel of classic sci-fi films such as 2001, Silent Running, Alien, and early 80's sci-fi films Outland, Blade Runner, and 2010.
- Human Popsicle: This is what the "Return Vehicle" is supposed to be.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: GERTY needs to get Sam to erase his memory and reboot him.
- Info Dump: A commercial at the beginning establishes why Sam is on the Moon.
- Ironic Echo:
- 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.
- Early on in the film Sam comments in a video message about how he's been talking to himself. Later on, he literally does.
- Irony: Of a pretty disturbing kind.
- It Has Been an Honor: Sam #2 and GERTY. Sam #2 even tears the "Kick Me" post-it note off of him before leaving as a sign of respect.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sam #2 has a terrible temper. Sam #1 used to be like this before he moved to the base.
- Kill and Replace: The easiest way to keep costs down, apparently. Each Sam believes he's at the beginning of his three-year contract.
- Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: The "rescue team" is sent in to retrieve the corpse of Sam 1 from the lunar rover, and to kill Sam 2 if they think he found out about it.
- Lonely Piano Piece: Several of them. Actually, most of the score is like this, but there are a few parts that make it more prominent.
- Marked to Die: The clones are indeed designed to die.
- Meaningful Name: The name of the lunar base, Sarang, means "love" in Korean and "nest" in Malay.
- Mega Corp.: Lunar Industries.
- Meta Twist: People generally spend the bulk of their first viewing of the film waiting for the twist that GERTY is evil.
- Mind Screw: Everything seems just fine until Sam reaches for his space suit...
- Minimalist Cast: Sam, GERTY, and Sam are the only characters on-screen, outside of pre-recorded videos and hallucinations, until close to the end of the film.
- Mirror Match: Sam 1 and Sam 2 brawl several times. The effect is ... unsettling.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Futurology, level 5.5.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: GERTY was programmed to be helpful. The company probably didn't realize GERTY would be that helpful.
- Not So Different: Sam comes to realise that he and Gerty are more similar than he first assumed.
- The Other Darrin: In-universe. 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.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: Averted; Sam can't figure out the password to access the logs of all the past Sams until GERTY supplies it for him.
- Peace & Love, Incorporated: Lunar Industry Ltd.'s the biggest supplier of clean helium-3 energy to 70% of the world. They even name their main base on the moon Sarang, Korean 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!
- Posthumous Character: Tess is revealed to have been dead for some time.
- Race Against the Clock: There's even a timer to when the "rescue" team arrives.
- 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.
- 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.
- And for some reason, his creators actually saw fit to provide him with a depressed/teary-eyed emoticon.
- 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.
- Shown Their Work: The DVD commentary mentions several things:
- 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.
- Stealth Pun: Sam is the man in the moon.
- 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!"
- 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.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Sam's discovery that he is in fact a clone.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Sam used to be quite aggressive, but his three-year solitary stint on the moon made him a milder person. The newly awakened Sam 2 shows exactly how prone to anger Sam 1 used to be.
- 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.note
- Used Future: GERTY and the mining equipment.
- Vader Breath: Heard at times when Sam is in his spacesuit/rover.
- Video Phone: Sam is watching and receiving video messages. Once he finally escapes the jammers, he can use a Video Phone live.
- The Voice: We never see the real Sam Bell, we only hear his voice offscreen.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Of the Blood from the Mouth kind. Yes, that's a tooth.
- Was It All a Lie?: Most of the film involves Sam's quest to figure out who he really is and where he came from.
- Weird Moon: Inverted. Earth, as seen from the Moon, appears larger than it should. In Real Life, it would appear to be almost four times as large as the Moon appears from Earth.
- We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: Sam is essentially a biological robot that is mass-produced and disposed of when each model is no longer useful.
- 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.
- During the ending's Info Dump, "Sam 2" is explicitly referred to as "Clone 6", though.
- 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 Didn't Ask: Implied with GERTY. For example, GERTY never even hints Sam is a clone, until Sam actually asks him point blank if he's a clone or not.
- You Need to Get Laid: Sam says this exact phrase to GERTY once. GERTY responds with his smiling face!
Wake me when it's quitting time...