How much do I love Moon (Jones, 2009)? I’ll just leave this here…
Isolation is a well used narrative tool in film, Oldboy (Park, 2003) and WALL-E (Stanton, 2008) are two films that I’ve watched recently which use the isolation of their protagonist in very different ways.
Duncan Jones uses isolation incredibly effectively in Moon to keep the audience guessing as the story unravels. When the second Sam Bell arrives on screen, we don’t know if he’s real (a clone) or imaginary (a figment of the first Sam’s fracturing mind). There are no other characters, no other reactions to his presence, to give us a frame of reference from which we can decide what we believe. We’re as much in the dark as the first Sam is, confused and unsure of what’s happening.
The dreamlike quality that pervades the first half of the film, before we discover that Sam 2 is in fact real, is heightened by the set design. In particular the juxtaposition of Sam’s personal items with the Spartan functionality of the base reminds me of dreams where familiar objects appear randomly out of place in strange locations.
The film’s themes also seem to focus on the effects of an ever more digitized world on the people who inhabit it. Moon highlights how as we become more connected digitally, we become more isolated from one another. At the film’s beginning we see the first Sam; the only analogue creature in a digital world. His precarious mental state and his possible hallucination of a second version of himself asks the audience to question the effects on our individual and collective mental health of an increasingly digitized existence. Sam 1’s relatively swift acceptance of Sam 2’s arrival and his attempts to befriend him (despite having no explanation for how or why Sam 2 is there) both serve to reflect his desperate desire for analogue interaction.
As the film develops and we discover that Sam 2 is just as real as Sam 1, Moon moves from questioning the individual, personal effects of digital culture to highlighting its collective and social implications.
If we shift from a culture of reproduction to a culture of replication, it seems inevitable that we will eventually replicate humans as well, both physically and mentally. Moon pushes us to question the ethics and values of this development and by proxy what it means to be human; if the clones are physically, mentally and emotionally the same as the very first Sam, then are they any less Sam? Are they any less human? It’s a cinematic treatment of the questions raised by Walter Benjamin; if everything is replicated, where is the original? How do we define its authenticity?
Moon‘s stance on the humanity of these clones seems clear. It treats them with care and emotion, and shows that they are different from each other in as many ways as they are the same.
The differences between the old (Sam 1) and young (Sam 2) clones seem to reflect how society and its view of technology is changing; the older clone representing calmer and more patient outlook, while the younger version wants to know everything immediately. It’s the newer, younger Sam 2 that survives, but only because of his newness, it seems inevitable that he too will degenerate only to be replaced by a newer, better version.
The implantation of “false” memories into the new clones also touches on the subjectivity of reality and experience. If the clones’ memories are stored in exactly the same way as the original Sam’s are or were, then are they as valid and real as the original Sam’s memories? If they are, then the actual experiences which created these memories are, to an extent, unimportant. It seems to be a metaphor for film, the first choreography of what actually occurs is unimportant, only the third choreography of how we interpret it in our minds is significant.
Jones, D. (2009) Moon, Liberty Films UK
Méliès, G. (1902) Le Voyage Dans La Lune, Star-Film
Park, C. (2003) Oldboy, Egg Films
Stanton, A (2008) WALL-E, Pixar Animation Studios