Monday, 4 April 2011


Caught up with this last night. Duncan Jones' Directorial début has a minimal cast but delivers a lot of impact and much food for thought. The acting is tight and the set conceptualisation generic of any sci-fi moon base setting. It is the dynamics of evolving human understanding, personal identity and the movement from isolation to community that makes the narrative journey of this film worth engaging with.

Lunar Industries Ltd harvest Helium 3 from the surface of the moon and it is shipped back to earth in pilot-less pods as a source of energy. The facility is on the far side (as opposed to the dark side) of the moon and is overseen by one operative - Sam Bell who is there on a three year contract. The story begins two weeks before the end of his contract as he begins to look forward to his return to earth. The only link with earth are video messages from earth-bound bosses and from his wife and daughter. The comm-link is down so live communication is out. Bell's only company is a robot by the name of GERTY spookily voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Bell eventually discovers another person on the base - a different version of himself, one that is like he was when first arrived and one which has not been formed by the process of living alone for three years. The two Bell's have a different emotional outlook and even manage a fight at one stage. Eventually they discover they are in fact clones and that the base has hundreds of Bells in stasis in chambers hidden away. It seems they can only last for three years before their body decays and they die. GERTY then wakes up a new Bell telling him he has had an accident and his lack of memory is a consequence of this. The way this is done is extraordinarily engaging and not at all as facile as my description might suggest.

But the Bells do have memory - memory of their wife Tess and daughter Eve. Their desire to return home is unquenchable and GERTY who has been programmed to ensure their well-being is persuaded that helping one of the Bell's to return to earth in the Helium 3 pod is in their best interest. In the end the drive for family, for community, for human connectedness is the thing that pushes this film beyond being just another sci-fi movie.

Bell has been making a balsa wood model of his home town as another symbol to help us to see the depth of longing for rootedness and community that he has. GERTY confirms that he has spent nearly 1000 hours making this model over the three years - a true labour of love.

The film raises a whole heap of questions:
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • Is there wisdom in cloning humans - even for dangerous isolated jobs?
  • How does the nurture/nature debate impact Bell's development?
  • Do all Bells develop in the same way or are they a product of their development?
  • What role do family and community play in defining our sense of self?
  • How can Corporate greed push a company to develop such technology?
  • How might 2001 been different if HAL had been GERTY?
  • How were the cloned Bells related?
  • Where was the original Bell - was he aware that he had been cloned?
  • How can the sacrifice of one Bell set the other Bells free?
  • How many fathers does Eve have and does it matter?
  • Does a story of sacrifice, salvation and redemption after three years of work ring any bells?

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Do see it when you get the chance or add it to your Love Film wish list! I'll give it 8/10.


Anonymous said...

"How can Corporate greed push a company to develop such technology."

How does the idea of corporate greed taking advantage of people for their own financial benefit reflect upon today's society?

Also seemed their was a slight joust at the media as well, at the end of the film. When there were sound clips of the news talking about his return to earth, saying he was lying and was an illegal immigrant. Interesting indeed.

Duncan Strathie said...

Good questions Anonymous.

Corporate greed features strongly in many future looking sci-fi films. The Alien series and Avatar to name a couple.

Thanks for the comment.

Steve Parkinson said...

For me it raised the macabre idea that mistreatment of a clone "doesnt matter" since its just a clone after all. I loved this film for the momentum of thought it provoked when finished, not least the thought that this kind of work ethic is well within current corporation mentality! Nice post Duncan

Duncan Strathie said...

Thanks Steve - with you all the way. We need to get our ethical codes in place now before we have to deal with cloned humans for real and also sentient AI when it arrives. Have you seen Cloud Atlas? The fifth story there explores similar questions.

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