Before I start this one, I just have to say that the music in this movie surpassed all expectations for a film of this nature. Beautiful delicate piano pieces worked to great effect against the stark backdrop of the Moon’s star-filled horizons and empty spaces. Sam Rockwell outdid himself as well. He’s amazingly versatile as an actor and took his character (Sam) in so many directions. I don’t know who else could have managed a role of that nature and done as well. And technically cool – duplication techniques have come a long way from the days of The Parent Trap, that’s for damn sure. Yeah, that’s a bit of a spoiler. Sorry if you haven’t seen the film yet. Get it, watch it, and come on back so you can weigh in on my take on this one.
It’s hard to believe that film was only 97 minutes long. I was glued to the screen for the whole damn thing, mesmerized by what I thought was going to happen, and satisfied by what did happen.
Sam’s alone on a moon base. The film’s early plot centers mostly around his job up there, a three year tour minding the Helium 3 harvesters (all named after the Gospels, annoyingly) as they strip mine the dark side of the moon. Sam has to drive out to collect their canisters once in a while and it’s on one of these excursions that he has an accident. More about that in a minute.
He’s been seeing things and getting kind of kooky in the head after so much time by himself with only the robotic maintenance armed machine, Gerty (voiced nicely by Kevin Spacey), for company.
Given the sheer number of movies I’ve seen, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to wonder if Gerty was fucking around with him. His radio didn’t work so he couldn’t call Earth at any time to talk directly to his bosses. Gerty could have been manipulating the man’s sense of time (are you sure you only have 2 weeks of work left before you can fly home and see your wife and child? – there’s a great book by Robert J. Sawyer where the AI does just that, called The Golden Fleece) or the technology he relied on (Are you sure those vids of her aren’t manipulated in any way? I thought I saw a suspicious jump in one of them…)
His visions were reminding me of Solaris, too — not the crapass version with George Clooney, but the original Russian masterpiece. It’s during one of these “having a vision” moments that he crashes his vehicle into one of the harvesters.
Next scene, we see him wake in the infirmary. He has no clue how he got there, and neither do we. Gerty keeps him stuck there for a good long while doing mental tasks on him to make sure his brain hasn’t suffered any damage in the interim. When Sam does finally get the urge to see what he’s been missing, he can barely walk. Just how long has he been in there? He overhears Gerty having a discussion with the bosses direct – something he thought was impossible with their supposedly damaged satellite system. Gerty is also keeping him from doing his job and not letting him go outside to see why a harvester is stalled in the field. Sam resorts to a little vandalism to create a reason to check outer base integrity and Gerty relents.
Sam gets into his gear, into his truck, and drives out to the harvester, where he sees the damage made by the first truck’s collision. Curious, he hops on board and discovers a body. He was sure he was alone up there, so he’s double shocked to find he has a double – who’s not quite dead.
Yep, it turns out that the company running this power project has resorted to cloning in order to staff the place. Each clone is supposed to work for three years and then “go home” – as in, be incinerated – to make room for the next clone who wakes up thinking he just had some accident and needs Gerty to check him out. Sam II was not supposed to discover the nearly dead version of himself at all. The company had already arranged for a “rescue” team to come and fix the harvester anyway. There was technically no reason for him to go check it out himself, save curiosity.
The pair of them wind up working together to find out why they exist, how long this has been going on, and if there’s a way to get around the radio silence and know for sure. Gerty finds a way around his programming to give them a hand, too. His whole purpose is to help Sam and giving him the password needed to access the secret clone files falls into that category, by Gerty’s reasoning. You can’t fault Gerty for maintaining the ruse as long as he was able, though. That was part of his programming, too.
As the rescue time approaches, a plan is outlined to erase Gerty’s memory of recent events and reboot him with a new clone in place to wake up, neither of them the wiser. Nearly Dead Sam must be found in the truck by the harvester, and Sam II — Sam 6, actually — needs to get his ass to Earth as quick as possible so the world can know what the fuck’s been going on with that company for the past fifteen years. But before he takes off, he sends a harvester on a collision course with the radio blocker tower so the new clone will easily discover that everything he thought he knew about his life was a lie. The film ends with cuts of radio and TV broadcast sounds of a world reacting to Sam 6’s existence, and what it may mean for this company in charge of their main power source.
Isn’t that fantastic? Doesn’t that leave you wondering what kind of moral and ethical minefield we’ll be facing if human cloning does become feasible? Will they have rights? Will they be people? In the case of these fully grown men (which I doubt we’ll have to deal with, but you never know) they’ve all started with the same set of memories, but once alive, they all have different experiences and become different people, even if they all look the same. Was Original Sam in on this plan, or does the realization that his life’s been copied and recopied come as a total shock to him as well?
Given the nature of the job, there’s some logic behind growing people to work there rather than ship people over there at great expense. Maybe that has to be considered. But was it right to keep the clone aspect such a secret?
edit August 11/10: just found out via a Roger Ebert tweet about Spectator.co.uk and the article posted there about this film. It’s a very good read.