A few years from now, Moon will be a sci-fi cult classic, so secure your bragging rights and see it on the big screen now.

Unlike the season’s hot sci-fi blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Moon is a low-budget, low-gizmo gem that packs a strong emotional and lingering wallop. If you liked Sunshine, you’ll like Moon. It’s a thoughtful, fascinating, mature psychological thriller that happens to take place on the dark side of the moon sometime in the future. It could just as easily be happening, more or less, at any time, in any setting of deprivation or abandonment.

Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell, Frost/Nixon, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is nearing the end of an excruciating three-year tour of duty as the operator of an isolated helium retrieval plant on the moon. He’s exhausted, lonely, bored, and frantic to get home to see his wife and young daughter. The communications link to Earth has been down — again — for quite a while — so he seeks consolation in old broadcasts of conversations with his pretty wife. He starts seeing things and having weird dreams. He feels like parts of his brain are running out of juice. Is he seeing real things– or going crazy? Will the rescue ship arrive in time to help him? Can he believe anything the corporate office tells him?

Sam’s only real company is GERTY, the computer with the smiley (or frowny) face and the soothing (or sinister) voice of Kevin Spacey (K-PAX, another sci-fi gem.) GERTY’s sworn duty is to take care of Sam and, as Sam learns, GERTY performs that function regardless of what their Earth-stationed multi-national bosses expect.

One day Sam runs the extracting tank to the helium mine and has a terrible accident. He wakes up on the operating table in the station’s infirmary with no memory of what happened. He’s making a slow recovery until he discovers somebody who looks just like him who’s wearing his astronaut suit and is in perfect health. The two men ignore one another, then demand explanations, then, no surprise, start battling. Which one is Sam? Who’s the other guy? And why does he look just like Sam? Is one a clone? If so, which one is the clone? And, most importantly, which one is the human? And if a clone is so much like a human being, then, the ultimate question, what does it mean to be human?

That’s a quick summary of what is a complex foray into some pretty cosmic questions. The intriguing journey is made incredible by Sam Rockwell’s performance–or performances, plural–he is playing two men on different emotional arcs and is absolutely riveting. Complementing Sam’s ever-darkening awareness of reality is the gleaming white space station that imprisons him and the vast cratered moonscape outside.

Moon is director Duncan Jones first feature-length film and it’s a promising debut. As the son of rocker David Bowie, Jones no doubt has a ton of creative DNA and it will be a pleasure to watch him mine it in the years to come.

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