Here am I floating round my tin can... Planet earth is blue And there's nothing I can do ("Space Oddity," David Bowie)
It's an earnestly thoughtful little science fiction film called simply "MOON," yet it navigates the very human and emotional territory that most other sci fi thrillers dare not venture to explore. In most scenes, Sam Rockwell's be-stubbled astronaut warily slouches his way through his daily routine as the lone human staff member of a Korean-American company that is harvesting energy for earth.
His sole companion is a computerized robot named Gerty voiced by the eerily neutral Kevin Spacey. Quickly you realize this is really not about the science of harnessing energy or robotics. It's about mastering the loneliness and the isolation of floating in the sky above earth. It's about bonds -- those of love and the surly kind that one must "slip" through to live outside the earth's orbit. It's also about the vital role that furry slippers can play in mankind's exploration of outer space. And along the way it's about what happens when you meet your own clone.
Perhaps you know first-time Indie director Duncan Jones better as Zowie Bowie, son of David Bowie. Although he made a name for himself as the wildly successful architect of the French Connection FCUK series of ad campaigns, this four letter creation is by far the better use of the PhD in Philoshophy that he once pursued. Jones spoke with me briefly on his birthday last week.
My gift to him was that I would conduct the entire interview without mentioning his father.
CS: When I walked away from seeing the film, here's what stood out for me: the universality of the human experience even in a fantastical environment. I appreciated all of the details you included like his family pictures haphazardly taped in the dormitory, the scribbled post-its on the console, and his furry tattered slippers worn to traverse the antiseptically tiled control room.
DJ: We were trying to make a sci- fi film about the human being, not so much the special effects. Most [science fiction movies] tend to go from one effect to another. We are paying homage to the films of the late 70s and 80s because we love that it really was about the people and how they affected by future environments, the sort of alien or inhuman environments. The actual design of the base was something we were constantly compromising and trying to do with limited time and money, but little touches like the pictures really added that sense of realism
Is there a reason you chose to make the moon harvesting company a Korean American collaboration?
One reason for that is my girlfriend at time was Korean and the name of the base- Sarang- is Korean for love so that was me being a bit of a romantic. Korea also has one of the most developed robotics programs and it's one of the nations you could accept would be involved in this technologically ambitious program..
The moon itself is practically a character in a film with a very small cast. Is that why you chose Moon as the title?
I guess it's very literal and obvious but I came out of an advertising background and it seemed a way to coopt the moon and have it be part of the branding. Everyone generally has positive feelings about the moon.
There's also the verb, as in mooning over someone?
Yeah, that's true as well.
Why were you so sure Sam Rockwell was right for this role? You even named his character Sam Bell. He's usually in supporting roles so it seems a bit of a leap --as opposed to a small step--to build a film around him.
We met 3 years ago for another film which was probably too ambitious for my first feature film but we talked about the kinds of films we both loved. We talked about Outland, Silent Running, the original Alien-- all had more realistic blue collar-type characters. So Moon was really written for him. As an actor I didn't think it a leap at all. I almost felt like I was doing the most obvious thing in the world and I couldn't really understand why no one else had done it yet. I found him to be a phenomenal actor with huge amounts of charisma and there is something quirky and also nuanced about him He is one of the few actors you can watch in a whole film and not get bored of him. Hopefully in Moon he proves it.
I read that the set was a 360 degree environment. What does that mean?
Again because we're an indie we wanted to make sure we were spending as much of our time and money shooting and putting stuff on the screen. So we shot it all on two sound stages, One was the interior of the moon base and we had kind of a lid on it and we'd go through the airlock and shoot.There was no third wall so we could turn the camera wherever we wanted and always be in the base.
How did you convince Kevin Spacey to sign on?
Trudie Styler--Sting's wife--is a real supporter of young British film makers and when she became involved she connected with him. He runs the Old Vic theater in London so he read it and loved it But he was concerned about the budget so he said to make it and if [he liked it he would] become involved. There was really no guarantee he'd be involved. But he was so blown away by Sam Rockwell's performance that he absolutely wanted to do it.
So Gerty's voice was recorded after you shot all of Sam's scenes? Their connection is quite powerful, one of the bonds that the movie explores.
When we were shooting many different members of the crew were reading Gerty's voice to Sam.
So I can't overstate how amazingly talented Sam Rockwell is.
It makes me want to watch again just knowing that since their relationship is one of the key interactions that Sam's lonely character has.
I really want to keep making films [like this]. The next one is another four letter word beginning with "M". It's about the other side of the coin from Moon which is contemplative and quiet and about loneliness. Mute takes place in a busy future Berlin.
So how refreshing has it been for you to do an interview without any mention of your dad?
I very much appreciate it although he is an absolutely lovely man. He was with me at Sundance when we screened Moon for the first time.