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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Moon (2009), dir. by Duncan Jones - NOTE SPOILERS!

This British movie, directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell, has the trappings of a serious work of science fiction. The sets and machines show considerable realism for a story supposedly set on the Moon's surface, the pace moves rather slowly, and the mystery is solved gradually. There is relatively little violent action, and when two men fight the scuffle is clumsy and unspectacular.

Moon held my interest, despite the slow pacing, and I do recommend it to SF aficianados as one alternative to fare that depends on spectacle, special effects, and violent conflict. Nonetheless, it's a movie that ultimately fails to convince.

That is partly because the resolution depends on what has long been a cliché - the employment of human reproductive cloning for wicked purposes by an unscrupulous business corporation. Can we please put this trope to bed for a few decades, and along with it the more general use of cloning to code for evil?

I gave a spoiler warning in the heading to this post. Here is another one, just in case. You've now been warned again.

The evil company, Lunar Industries, is mining helium-3 on the dark side of the Moon, with just one human operator (assisted by a clever and vocal computer system: GERTY) to oversee the workings of automated mining equipment. The operator, Sam Bell, is employed for a three-year term, keeping in regular contact with his pregnant wife on Earth.

Except (remember the spoiler warning)... the evil company has decided to staff its operation with a series of Sam Bell clones, each of which runs out of life toward the end of three years, to be replaced by a new, fully-developed clone with Sam's memories. Each successive clone thinks of itself - himself! - as at the beginning of the original Sam's term of work. To clarify, each clone is programmed with Sam's memories as they were at the beginning of Sam's trip to the Moon; each has to be tricked into thinking that it is still the year of Sam's arrival. As events turn out, Sam's wife is no longer pregnant: she actually had their baby, a girl called Eve, fifteen years before the main action.

It's mysterious how Lunar Industries manages to keep this arrangement secret, though I suppose it does a lot of clever lying and covering up, back on Earth. Bear in mind, that the helium-3 mined on the Moon is used in fusion reactors and provides for most of Earth's energy needs. This is not some obscure outfit, but, rather humankind's major energy supplier. You'd think it would be under some scrutiny.

It's also mysterious just how any of this is supposed to produce cost savings for the company that are significant in the scheme of things, when compared with some more straightforward means of staffing its mining operation. It does, admittedly, mean that the company doesn't need to train and transport a new astronaut every three years. On the other hand, it has gone to the trouble and expense of building a rather large secret vault of Sams on the Moon, to be unfrozen as needed. Furthermore, it has to maintain an elaborate charade to prevent Sam (the Sam in charge at any particular time) from speaking directly to anyone on Earth who is not a dupe of the company, from working out that he is not the original Sam, and even from discovering what year it is.

Given the trouble and cost associated with the scheme - not to mention the risk of being found out - it almost seems that the company runs its staffing arrangements as it does just to be evil. That might be acceptable in a different kind of movie with different conventions, aspirations, and standards. Here, I'm afraid, it really won't wash.

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