(to avoid spoilers, only watch the trailer to 1:00)
There will be spoilers, so if you don’t want to encounter spoilers, then you probably shouldn’t read any of this.
We are told that in this future we have exhausted our natural resources and the world as we knew it was dying. But the good news is that we have found a new, clean and renewable way to power our lives, Helium-3 (He-3). The substance is found on the far side of the moon and a company called Lunar Industries is the primary exporter, they do this from their moonbase Sarang ( which means ‘Love’ in Korean). Because of the distance, and the importance of this enterprise there must be a human in the base monitoring the mining and ensuring that the process goes smoothly. They do this in contracts of three year. As with all Science Fiction movies, everything is not as it seems.
The movie opens on Sam Bell, he is the current mining supervisor and he is two weeks away from the end of his three year contract. We see him go about his day, bathe, dress, eat, check the harvesters, cultivate his garden and whittle. We are presented with the image of a quiet man who takes pleasures in the simple tasks he does. His only companion is the moonbase central computer, a robot called GERTY. The robot is tethered to an overhead rail that travels throughout the moonbase, meaning wherever Sam goes, GERTY is there. The movie’s score (by Clint Mansell) is really wonderful it constantly keeps the viewer unsettled. The set design is spectacular, it is rare a movie creates a future world that looks believable, liveable and yet still somehow future-y.
It also adds to the feeling of unease, as everything is so well co-ordinated, and while Sam has added his own personal touches it still looks very clinical, like he is intruding on a lab. We are so disconnected from the humanity that Sam is trying to protect on Earth, that while the moonbase looks real, it doesn’t feel right. That feeling of disconnect is a major theme of this movie. Sam is not only physically disconnected from Earth, but he is told by GERTY that instant communications between Earth and the Moon are down so he relies on video clips as his only form of human contact.
He starts to hallucinate things that aren’t there and we see him affectionately replay messages from his wife and infant daughter to remind himself of his real life and in a way to reaffirm his humanity. As a way of further emphasising his disconnect with the world, the clock on the wall has also stopped and the only way he tracts time is through the moonbase command module which tracks his contract. It is like Sam is suspended in time, waiting out the end of this contract so he can resume his real life. He also seems to be physically deteriorating. We find out that there is no way that this can happen for our Sam.
After an incident with one of the harvesters, we see GERTY talk in real time to what we assume is Lunar Industries central command. This is right after Sam has had an accident, so we along with Sam are not sure what is happening. The Sam post accident behaves differently too, he is more cunning, aggressive and more physically robust. He shows no signs of physical deterioration from before the accident. From the video clips sent by his wife, we learn that before taking the contract Sam was a rash and often violent man. We assume (or at least it is briefly mentioned) that he took the contract to prove he can be a better man and a better father. So is this the same Sam? Is this a dream? Is this a flashback? Or is it some big conspiracy?
Through a series of events, we discover the horrible truth, Sam is a clone of the Original Sam Bell who left the Moon some fifteen years ago. The Sam from the beginning of the movie (Sam1) is nearing his three year expiry date and he is he is deteriorating because he is dying. Once the clones become three years old (the end of their contract), they are placed in a ‘return pod’ which is an incinerator, and another one is woken up to take his place. So through the movie we have been watching two Sams. Sam2 was woken by GERTY after Sam1 (through hallucinations) failed to return after the Harvester incident, the reason communications have been disabled for Sam is to keep him from finding out the truth. By waking up Sam2, GERTY has broken procol and Lunar Industries send over a rescue team (read:hit squad) to salvage the situation. Both Sam’s figure out a way to free themselves from Lunar and tell the world what has been happening in space. I have to admit the ending really pulled on my heart strings.
What’s great about the movie is that the plot twist is not the end of the movie. The moral line that Lunar Industries crossed is not the focus of the movie, the character of Sam is. The clones represent him at various stages of his life, and while biologically similar, each clone is their own person, capable of independent thought and decisions. We learn through Sam that what we consider our reality doesn’t have to be the only one presented to us, we alone have the final say.