MOON – AN EXAMINATION OF WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN

SHORT TAKE:

Thoughtful, low key and intriguing sci fi exploration of the definition of a human.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Adults only for language, graphic depictions of radiation sickness and the topics of death, loneliness and the marketing of human life.

LONG TAKE:

Sam Rockwell is an amazing actor. I have sung his praises in other outings like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, (SEE RADIO SHOW HERE and the REVIEW HERE) and his stint as Bob Fosse in the miniseries Fosse/Verdun. But my favorite performance of his will always be the first one I ever saw him in, Galaxy Quest, the parody / love letter to Star Trek.

SPOILERS BUT AS FEW AS POSSIBLE

So I was duly intrigued by a story that would see Rockwell go back out into space. In Moon he does just that. Moon is a tour-de-force, almost a one man show.

I warn you I’m going to be a bit disingenuous about this movie because I do not want to spoil it anymore than I have to for the sake of the following analysis. Moon is about a man and a clone. I will tell you that the cleverly written script leaves “Easter eggs” around giving hints.

Set in 2035, the story initially explores an examination of how one copes alone on a solitary mission for an extended period of time. Moon then, by turns, becomes an examination in psychology, a mystery, a buddy movie, and eventually a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be a human with the soul. This last led me to realize that Moon could easily be, whether that was on the mind of the filmmaker or not, an analogy for the in vitro created embryos, especially those abandoned as excess or unwanted by the sperm and egg donors who should have accepted their responsibility as parents.

Sam Bell is alone on a space station. His mission contract is for 3 years, monitoring the mining output of extremely valuable *helium-3 from the Moon.  Sam’s only connection to Earth is from one-way video messages of his wife and baby daughter. His only companion or foil for his comments is GERTY who looks more like a Welcome Wagon than even a robot and is voiced by the now infamous Kevin Spacey, who’s measured tones, (giving the devil his due), attempt to offer Sam what limited comfort of which it is capable.

Unlike other writers who agonize over choosing just the right name for their characters, Jones did not, apparently, give it much thought. Lest you were wondering, GERTY is not an acronym but just a name, perhaps, as has been speculated by admirers of the film, chosen for Christopher E Gerty, a NASA aerospace engineer, or perhaps for its similarity to the first five letters on the top line of a standard keyboard – QWERTY.  Sam, the main character’s first name, is the actor’s first name. The harvesters are named after the four authors of the Gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which one might think brings a gravitas of meaning, but Jones, himself, has said they were only chosen because he wanted four names that went together.

Sam Bell becomes desperate for any kind of human interaction, longing for personal communication, but forgets that one should be careful for what one wishes as information can be as heartbreaking as it is educational.

Rockwell does a terrific job, even landing his performance in a list of one of the top 10 most egregious Oscar snubs. Rockwell’s Sams are at once the exact same but completely different. One Sam is simply further down the road than the other and Rockwell does a magnificent job of making them completely distinguishable, while at the same time leaving the door open for alternative interpretations, such as: is Sam Bell really only losing his mind? (Rest assured, the movie will eventually answer all the pertinent questions). But during the course of the movie Rockwell’s dynamic performance leaves all possibilities viable (pun intended).

The scenes on the surface of the Moon are well done and very believable, especially when considering Moon‘s mini budget of $5,000,000 and scant shooting schedule of 33 days in Shepperton Studios. The director/writer Duncan Jones preferred models to CGI so employed Bill Pearson, the supervising “animator” for Alien, who was happily at loose ends because of a writers’ strike, to create the rovers and harvesters .

First time feature director, Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones’ only other claims to fame up to this time were being a commercial director and the son of famous rocker David Bowie. The film even opens with the line: “Where are we now?” the title of one of his father’s songs.

Jones wrote Moon as a vehicle for Sam Rockwell. Jones had been interested in casting Rockwell as a villain in another film, Mute. While Rockwell liked Mute and was tempted, he was tired of playing bad guys. So Rockwell challenged Jones – that if Jones wrote something of the same quality which would trust him, Rockwell, in a leading role, he would do it. So Jones did — and Rockwell agreed.

The soundtrack by Clint Mansell is reminiscent of Philip Glass. Dissonant string chords, heavily rhythmed but mostly without regular tempo, are occasionally interspersed with simple childish tunes which would be at home in a child’s jewelry box. The effect is one of both low level, anxiety driven tension and what a quiet but hostile space environment might sound like were it anthropomorphized to conduct an orchestra. The overall result is both unsettling and lulling.

In philosophizing about where on the spectrum of humanity lies clones, there must come a reckoning as to the significance of other “artificially” created human life. As the conclusion in the favor of those not “born of woman” becomes more and more obvious, there is an inevitability for any thought conscientious person to reach the same judgement concerning those children whose conception took place in a petri dish – the in vitro embryos bred and then left discarded as “extras” and “backups” then ultimately … forgotten to death. The “where” one obtains life is not important. They – both clones and science-driven and conceived embryos – are undeniably human.

When Edward Rutledge protests against John Adams’ assertion that slaves are Americans, John Adams points out, appropriate to that particular historic juncture, in the brilliant musical 1776: “They are people, and they are here. If there’s any other requirement, I haven’t heard it,” regardless of how they arrived. Similarly, I would point out, the only prerequisite to being considered human, with all of the attendant God given rights and dignities, is to be — a human. Doesn’t matter how you arrived: sexual interaction, artificial insemination, petri dish, cloning, or (in the case of extended sci fi examples) transporter accidents – a human is a human and should be treated as such.

Moon makes this point beautifully and with great understatement. And Rockwell is the classy and compelling purveyor of that message. So to paraphrase Horton: A person’s a person, no matter how he got here.

*Helium-3 is a real thing – also called tralphium or helion, it is a light stable isotope of helium which is rare on Earth but is speculated to be more abundant and mineable from the Moon.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS – WONDERFULLY POLITICIALLY INCORRECT COMIC BOOK-STYLE CREATURE FEATURE

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION FOR REVIEW OF GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

SHORT TAKE:

If you are a fan of Godzilla then you will love this contribution to the now 65 year old franchise.

WHO SHOULD GO:

At youngest, younger teens, for: frightening and extensively violent images of city-wide destruction, human peril and cataclysmic fight scenes with other monsters. There is also some language including one “f” word and blasphemy. And while there is no sexuality shown, there are a small handful of sexual innuendos spoken, which will probably go over the head of most younger teens. There is also a confusing mish mash of paganism and Christian religious symbols and references which could confuse a spiritually immature child.

LONG TAKE:

In 1954 Godzilla inexplicably and emphatically became a cult hit. A rubber suited man emitting a now iconic shriek (created by Akira Ifukube rubbing a resin coated leather glove across the strings of a double bass) wrecks havoc, clumping awkwardly as he lazer-breathes his way through towns and countrysides behind fleeing crowds of (mostly) Japanese victims.

35 films later (all but 3 made by Toho, a Japanese-based film company), the franchise is still going strong. The latest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, is a loose sequel to the 2014 Hollywood film which firmly established Godzilla to mainstream American audiences as a “good guy” ally to humanity. In point of fact, some Japanese philosophies even see Godzilla as an indifferent “god” of destruction in a cycle of death and rebirth.

At one point a scientist, upon seeing the monster in full, interjects the name of the Lord, to which Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford – Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks, Cabin in the Woods) punnily follows up with “zilla”. In fact the name Godzilla was never meant to refer to our Creator. It was actually a Europeanized mispronunciation of the Japanese, Gojira, which, in turn refers to an animal which is akin to both a whale and a gorilla.

SPOILERS – but, I mean, come on, this is Godzilla and there’s not that much plot to spoil.

In this outing, Godzilla is a bit of both ally and destructo-machine, as he tromps over the Earth with 16 other “Titans”. The human subplot, which is supposed to keep us grounded to the big critters, involves scientists Mark and Emma Russell, (Kyle Chandler – Game Night, Argo, King Kong and Vera Farmiga – The Nun, Conjuring 2) who lost their son in the first Godzilla movie, (flashback) then divorced. Emma is now brainwashing, I mean raising, their remaining child Madison (the clearly talented Millie Bobby Brown who is the amazing “11” from Stranger Things) to follow in her tunnel vision footsteps, putting her research of the Titans above everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) else.

Rounding out the cast is Ken Watanabe (Inception, Last Samurai, previous Godzilla, Pokémon Detective Pickachu), Charles Dance (staple in film and TV for 45 years, bringing a wicked class and style to everything from Game of Thrones to Shakespeare and a villain in the James Bond franchise), Sally Hawkins (in both the offensively awful Shape of Water and the extremely delightful Paddington movies), and Joe Morton, (whose career dates all the way back to 1951 including the innovative cult sci fi Brother From Another Planet and the classic Terminator 2: Judgement Day).

The rest of the run time is spent watching CGI monsters destroy each other in admittedly spectacular fashion, although a lot of cheating is done in the details by holding all the fights at night, under water or in a Cat 6 (???) hurricane manufactured by one of the “bad guy” Titans.

It occurred to me as I perused a Youtube which did a quick survey of all the Godzilla movies, that the phenomenon of Godzilla has much in common with the Lego movies. Aside from the 1998 Matthew Broderick contribution, which envisioned Godzilla as a more “realistic” mountain-sized Komodo Dragon, Godzilla reminds me of an action figure. Despite all the CGI available, the director, Michael Doughtery, (Superman Returns and a couple of X-Men movies) chose to stick with the stilted, squat, awkwardly moving Godzilla instead of the 1998 lithe, quick and sinuous monster which chased Matthew Broderick through New York City. Similarly to the Lego Movie, which sees the world from the point of view of the toys, Godzilla strikes me as inspired by the imaginations of every child who had a monster toy with which they liked to terrorize their surroundings. The traditional Godzilla MOVES like an action figure with an inverted triangle body, whippy tail with which to bludgeon objects, and tiny useless arms, clumping from side to side as it stomps forward crushing everything under foot in its path – except the “important” actors. The end credits even camp it up, featuring a cover by Bear McCreary of the 1977 Blue Oyster Cult novelty song “Godzilla”.

This is a pulp funny book brought to full Technicolor life with all of the shallowness of plot, disjointed explanations, magic-style “science”, inconsistent character motivations, and single note personalities of a comic book and its denizens. Even so, this is not meant as a criticism or failure of the movie. I suspect this is what the film makers were after. And it succeeds, as such, admirably, throwing in a little wry humor dialogue now and again just to keep things “real”.

As a matter of fact, there is one special reason why I, personally, like this movie. In a delightfully refreshing turn of events, a truth is demonstrated. The monsters have been deliberately set forth to destroy mankind by a recognizably legitimate force for evil, one which wrecks havoc on us in the real world on a daily basis – the Environmental Wacko. The bad guys here boldly state that humans are a “virus” on the Earth which must be scoured off, in their way of thinking, to allow the world to return to its “natural” state. But, of course, in true and honestly portrayed, narcissistic liberal hypocritical fashion, the villain, after murdering tens of thousand of men, women and children with these behemoths, she willing puts all her plans on hold when it is her child at risk. No one else’s child is important though, only hers and hers alone.

Her insane scheme to find and release the Titans upon the Earth is understood by the rest of the characters in the movie as: ridiculous, evil, short sighted, cruel, and – ultimately, flat out wrong. This, of course, can sum up the entire mentality of the extreme environmentalist movement, which wants to put animals above people, prefers human suffering for OTHERS (who are not members of their extreme club) to widespread use of modern inventions, ignores common sense science (like the fact that carbon dioxide is GOOD for the environment as plants LOVE it), proposes hoaxes which further their agenda with NO verifiable evidence (like human caused climate change) but continue to jet around the world using up fossil fuels at a rate the rest of us can only dream about. It’s nice to see the blame placed at the feet of those to which it really belongs for a change.

Godzilla also leans heavily on paganism, reverencing and even calling to some worship of the monsters. That being said there is also some comparisons of Godzilla to Christian motifs – that he died trying to save us, descended to the depths of the Earth and was reborn to arise and defeat an evil monster (well two if you count the environmental wacko). While this has been done appropriately and respectfully in stories like Narnia (NOT that Godzilla even belongs in the same solar system with Aslan), it is a fair point to say not all of Godzilla is pagan, but that there are at least some superficial nods to a Christ-like theology, though it is obvious that the writers neither understand it nor fully embrace it.

So if you are familiar with and are a fan of the mythos of Godzilla then you will not be disappointed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. But while you should be advised of the heavily pagan-favored worldview, it will at least provide a breath of politically incorrect but common sense-accurate fresh air.