Saying yes to things, watching Duncan Jones’ Moon

On (give or take a month) the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, Mitch invited us to watch Duncan Jones’ Moon at the Stratford Picture House.

I could feel myself about to say “I think I’ll stay in tonight” when I remembered Matt telling me about a podcast he’d listened to where a bloke had decided to say “Yes” more, so I said “Is it PG”? No, it was Certificate 15. But where violence is concerned I have the viewing-age of an under-twelve.

Sam Bell is an astronaut in charge of a mine works, based alone in a station on the moon without a live communication feed. His sole helper and companion is a robot called GERTY. Two weeks away from the end of a three-year contract he has an accident and when he wakes up, he finds he is not alone any more.

The British Board of Film Classifications explained exactly why it was Certificate 15. I decided to go, because it sounded like a very good film and, as a user of the BBFC’s extended classification information (to me, ‘spoiler’ is a misnomer) I was fairly confident about avoiding the bad bits (but there’s no spoiler in this post). And it’s time to grow up.

I spent the first half hour in a neurotic crash position, two fingers in my ears and four more pressing my eyes shut, my heart beating  “like a little guinea pig” Matt observed unkindly, and as ever astonished by my own pathos.  But the situation was unbelievably claustrophobic, there were sharp implements used by the protagonist, a robot gave a haircut, there was heavy working industrial machinery everywhere, and the noises were menacing. All I could see was sharp or heavy danger, and his impending accident.  I take of my hat to today’s film makers for sheer power over our souls. Watching the old fashioned films this one referenced – 2001, Dark Star – is fine, but modern cinematography penetrates your psyche like a knife into butter.  All the same, there is something a little wrong with my reaction. A film made me jump once and I never got over it.

Then, between the penultimate violent event which caused the 15 certification and the final one (which couldn’t happen because the plot hadn’t sufficiently thickened) I began to watch properly. It was really worth it.

There are some problems with the exposition – for example, it beats me why a company with a monopoly and machinery as sophisticated as GERTY would require a human to staff the station, and why only one human, and why for three years with no vacation? But’s probably best not to ask the plot to carry more weight than it can – there are just some things you have to take for granted in order to get to think about the more interesting stuff.

moon-gertyOne reviewer called Moon “a study of loneliness” but for me it was more of a study of humanity. The way Sam and GERTY (whose voice was Kevin Spacey) related to each other was one of the most interesting things. GERTY’s design was also intriguing – he was not anthropoid but he had a small screen for displaying yellow emoticons. Throughout the film GERTY was confronted with new situations, and the interplay between his range of expressions, the rapid shift between them, and their frequent incongruity were some of the funniest moments. They were some of the most interesting insights into the values of GERTY’s programmer. I think GERTY’s processor would have been some kind of neural network, software which can learn on the job. In an understated way you could see GERTY learning, and this became very important as the plot began to explore what ethical values meant to sophisticated computers, and to the relations between humans and sophisticated computers – what does it mean when GERTY says he exists to keep Sam “safe”? – and relations between managers and their human and non-human staff.

This is no dehumanised technological dystopia flick, and in a really interesting way I can’t go into without giving away the plot, it’s a counter to both technophobia and conspiracy theory films. Watch it.

Then today I regressed; I have just said “No” to something I originally said yes to. There’s a free showing of Joseph Cedar’s Israeli warfilm Beaufort at the Free Word Centre tonight. I had tickets but Matt couldn’t get back in time, and although I had thought, based on the BBFC, it would be alright, one Internet Movie Database reviewer said “I jumped in my seat like I never had before”. So I called them and freed up the tx. I need somebody to hang onto. I need to make the screen go small by looking at it in their spectacles. I’m ashamed.

2 thoughts on “Saying yes to things, watching Duncan Jones’ Moon

  1. Jones went to London Film School with Cassie. Despite this, I haven’t managed to see it yet.

    You’re cute in your scaredy-cat-ness. I remember you waiting for us while we went to watch ‘The Usual Suspects’ – a good decision in retrospect.

  2. Hello! Yes, it’s not got any better. To think I used to watch horror films with the other kids down my road in the bar of the B&B over our back wall when I was a nipper.

    Cassie will know that he is David Bowie’s son.

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