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Moon the Movie - Explained

Updated on February 3, 2013
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Spoiler Warning!

If you haven't seen the movie Moon don't read this! It gives away the beginning, the end, and everything in between!

Moon is on my Top Thirteen List of Best Cult Science Fiction Movies Ever Made. It's pure Sci-Fi without the technobabble, and at its heart it simply explores the tragedy of a scapegoat, and implies what we all suspect to be sadly true – that for a big enough prize, no one really cares how we get it.

Moon is guaranteed to make grown men and women sob like a lost child, unless you have a heart made of pure, cold stone. Like Roy Batty's Tears in Rain soliloquy in Bladerunner, it transcends considerations of plot and character, and reaches a point of analogy with the worst evils and excesses practised casually by men upon one another.

The Basic Premise of Moon

The film opens with an infomercial about Lunar Industries, a corporation that has solved the Global Energy Crisis by finding a way to extract Helium-3, a cheap, abundant and reliable energy source, from the Moon.

Sam Bell is the sole astronaut and engineer-cum-caretaker on the Moon - Sarang Mining Base. He maintains the Helium-3 'harvesters' and has lived a lonely and solitary existence for the past three years - the length of his contract with Lunar Industries.

But just two weeks before he is due to go back home to Earth and his wife and daughter, he is involved in an accident whilst trying to fix one of the harvesters.

We then see Sam in the base's infirmary being tended to by the robot Gerty who takes care of Sam's day-to-day needs and helps maintain the base.

But something is amiss. Sam has been told that the live satellite link to Earth was damaged before he even arrived there, and his only means of communication with home is by sending and receiving pre-recorded videos. But when he manages to struggle out of bed and stagger to the main living area, he sees Gerty having a live conversation with two representatives of Lunar Industries back on Earth.

Suspicious, Sam deliberately damages part of the internal wall of the base, and blaming it on a meteor shower persuades Gerty to let him go outside to fix it, where he drives around until he finds the first Sam Bell, whose prone and injured body he takes back to Sarang.

Without explaining, Gerty tells the second Sam that the injured man he has found is also Sam Bell.

Image in Public Domain, by NASA
Image in Public Domain, by NASA | Source

Sam Bell

Both Sams are Sam Bell, and both are clones of the original, real Sam Bell who was a part of the original mission at Sarang. Both have his memories - memories of how to maintain the Sarang Base and harvesters, and memories of a wife back on Earth.

It emerges that there have been many clones before them, and that there are many clones in storage in a secret room on the base, ready to be awoken in the future.

The 'contract' of each clone is three years, which, barring accidents, is the clones' useful life-span. At the end of a clone's contract, he is told that he will be put into stasis for the journey home. In reality he will be vapourised and the next clone will be awakened and will take his place.

As the movie progresses, the body of the first Sam Bell clone starts to fall apart, his teeth fall out and it becomes clear that he is dying. The new clone - the second Sam Bell, devises a plan - he will stay on the Sarang Base and the first, dying, Sam Bell will stowaway on a shuttle that is on its way to the base from Earth to fix the stalled harvester - being unaware that the new clone has already discovered the old one and that both now know the truth, Lunar Industries despatched a shuttle to take care of the damaged machinery in order that the newly awakened clone won't attend to it himself and find the presumed-dead former version of himself.

But as the shuttle approaches the Base, it becomes obvious that the first Sam Bell is very close to death, and that if anyone is going to make the journey back to earth it must be the second Sam Bell.

In order that Lunar Industries does not find out that their secret has been discovered, the second clone persuades Gerty to awaken yet another clone. This is because the first Sam Bell must be found dead or dying in the stalled harvester by the crew of the shuttle despatched from Earth, and must also find a newly awakened clone as Gerty has told them he has already awakened one to replace the one that was in the accident.

Just before the shuttle from Earth arrives at the base, the second Sam Bell clone drives the close-to-death first Sam Bell clone out to the stalled harvester, and puts him in the harvester ready to be found by the shuttle crew. The second Sam Bell clone then returns to Sarang, and sets Gerty to reboot so that the robot's automatic recording of all the events since the first Sam had his accident will not be discovered by Lunar Industries, which would place the second clone's life at risk.

The second clone then fixes the 'broken' live satellite link to Earth by un-jamming the signal so that the clone that will be newly awakened by Gerty will be able to communicate (and receive live television broadcasts such as the news) with Earth. He then stows himself in a storage space on the shuttle and thus gets taken back to Earth, where he reports Lunar Industries to the authorities, who instigate a criminal prosecution against the corporation.

The final scene is a series of news broadcasts about the trial and the clone's testimony. The final voice is of a tacky talk-radio show host who is hysterically outraged at the clone and accuses him of being a liar or an illegal immigrant.

Image by NASA, in the Public Domain
Image by NASA, in the Public Domain | Source

Why Use A Clone?

The one part of the premise that doesn't fully make sense is Lunar Industries' use of clones on Sarang Mining Base instead of ordinary personnel. Even admitting that large corporations are wholly free from ethical considerations, would the cloning technology really be cheaper than training new personnel for the job? Surely it would be easier, cheaper and much less risky to simply recruit new staff.

But then without the clone part of the story of course there would be no basic premise for the plot, so it is a small price to pay for a brilliant film.

No Communication with Earth

From the very beginning of the movie we know that the live communications feed between the moon base and Earth is broken, and has been broken since Sam 'arrived' on the base (i.e. was awoken). So Sam knows only the information that Lunar Industries chooses to tell him. His exchanges of pre-recorded videos with his wife are a lie - what he receives from her are in fact edited videos that she originally sent to her real husband, the Sam Bell upon whom the clones are based, and towards the end of the film, the first Sam clone that we meet finds out that the woman he thinks of as his wife actually died some years ago, and that the little girl he thinks of as his daughter is now almost a fully grown woman.

Gerty

The Robot on the Sarang moon base is called Gerty, which is possibly a nickname or an acronym but is never explained in the film.

Gerty comes equipped with a screen that shows (using a smiley of different expressions) his reflected mood. When Sam catches him having a two-way conversation with Lunar Industries representatives on Earth, he has a shocked and embarrassed smiley, and when Sam finds out that the video communications he has been having with his wife are a lie, Gerty has an anguished and tearful smiley.

Gerty appears to be genuinely concerned for Sam's well-being, and in an echo of motherliness he offers food to Sam on any occasion when Sam is upset or sick.

Gerty's concern for Sam also appears smewhat amoral. He does not display (through his array of smileys) any sadness when the first clone in the film has his accident, and beyond embarassment at being caught talking to Earth on a live feed, he does not show any shame at perpetuating the corporation's unethical treatment of the successive clones. But neither does he show much reluctance in helping Sam find out the details in previously-forbidden past records once the clones discover the truth; he even helps with their plan to hoodwink Lunar Industries and get one of them back to Earth despite that this is against his programming as a corporate robot.

The Model Town and Sam's Epiphany

The first clone of Sam Bell (that we meet in the film) is building a model of a town in the recreation room.

The second clone, attempting to get the first to accept that he is a clone, says to him, 'it was already started when you got here, right?'

A cloud passes over Sam's face, as the second clone goes on to say that he recognises it as his and the first clone's hometown, and point out a couple of recognisable buildings.

Although he doesn't yet accept it, this is the moment when the first clone realises that he must be a clone, because if the model was started before he arrived, then there must have been another Sam Bell on the base previously, and whether the original model-builder was the real Sam Bell or a previous clone, it means that he is not the first, and is therefore a clone himself.

The Final Voice

The final voice in the film, of the belligerent radio host, is an analogy or reflection of the imagined voice of the majority, of what the common voice would say, having as it would only a portion of the story and no vested interest in Sam.

Sam's story seems wild and unbelievable, and even if it is true he is threatening the stability of this world and its cheap and abundant energy, so the common voice (or perhaps just the common voice of belligerent radio hosts) is content to dismiss his story, and dismiss him; to sacrifice a single scapegoat (or in this case a long line of enslaved, conned and then murdered clones) for the sake of the comfort of the masses.

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    • profile image

      asa 11 months ago

      hey, it’s girdy not gerty. he runs on girders...get it?

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      DANIEL 2 years ago

      I didnt understand why they needed to kill the clone if they can just put him inside the closet and tell him that he is going to earth...

      why both kill him in the harvester and put him in the stasis?

    • profile image

      Dan 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for explaining this in such detail.

      I'm clearly struggling with the concept.

      I will have to watch again and as with all future classics, so can review and enjoy the subtle additions.

    • Redberry Sky profile image
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      Redberry Sky 3 years ago

      Pedro - cool take on the ending, I'm going to watch the film again and watch for any clues to that, but I wonder if the second Sam's kind of 'gift' to the third Sam was that he knocked out the interference on Sarang base so that the clone would be able to communicate with Earth; and maybe the outrage on Earth was because the existence of a clone - essentially a slave - was something that could wipe out the free helium-3 energy, because if the company had to start doing things ethically, costs would rise, and people would have to start paying for their energy again.

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      Pedro 3 years ago

      Great analysis! But I was a little shocked to realize, am I the only one who thinks THE SECOND SAM SENT THE THIRD ONE TO EARTH? He was in tears in his final scene, and as the small ship flies away, we can see the moon's surface (that shows from behind him) at horizontal level. And as we come to conclude, Sam's personality was one of a selfless man - the first one gives his chance up to the second -, so why wouldn't the second do the same for the third? That would also explain the outrage back on Earth, as the third one has no recollection of the past events, so he truly believes he IS the original one and tries to find his family. The second Sam would, in my opinion, "fight the system" and incriminate the company instead. I really hope somebody discuss this with me :)

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      PY 4 years ago

      It was also a great commentary on the ethics of technology, and in particular cloning, and the instrumental use of human beings by large corporations -- which for me brought up the issue of animal rights, since factory farmed animals too are slaves and there is no thought given to their complex emotional lives. They do feel grief when they are separated from one another. Sam's grief in the movie is visceral when he learns he is a captive slave, a clone, and that his life is a lie, that the woman he loves is dead, and that he has been usurped by another father figure. I often think of calves crying for the their mothers, having been torn away from them, to be turned into veal calves ... also the victims of large unfeeling corporations.

    • Tygher41 profile image

      Megan Carroll 4 years ago from Boynton Beach, FL

      Great Hub! I loved this movie. It was beautiful and really interesting. Sam Rockwell did a fantastic job as well.

    • Thief12 profile image

      Thief12 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Loved the film. One of the best sci-fi's I've seen recently.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for your explanation.

    • Redberry Sky profile image
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      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      Hey Aethelryth :) it's a stunner of a movie, isn't it? Sometimes I watch it twice in one day (though this is a very rare treat because my housemate has laid down limits to the amount of times I'm allowed to put the film on while he's in the house).

      That's a cool bit of the commentary I've totally missed (gives me an excuse to watch it again); a nice twist on the 'Hell is other people' concept. Rockwell plays the two Sams so differently I have to admit sometimes I forget it's the same actor!

    • Redberry Sky profile image
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      Redberry Sky 4 years ago

      Hi Peanutritious :) you're right, Duncan Jones is indeed the fabulously-named Zowie Bowie. Hope you didn't read too much of this if you haven't seen the movie, it really does give everything away! It's a brilliant film and even if you don't like sci fi I bet you'll love it (but have the Kleenex ready for a good weep!)

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

      I found this movie sneakily fascinating. That is, having grown up reading SF, I wanted to say yeah, yeah, it's been done. But though it reminded me of many other stories, I thought it explored ideas in a new way and so I will probably watch it again and again.

      I also found it interesting that on the DVD's commentary the actor, as the only actor, playing multiple versions of himself, said he got very tired of himself after a while. It brought up thoughts like, is solitary confinement better or worse if shared with someone else exactly like you?

      Thanks for a review of a really interesting movie.

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Hey Red! Lovely to see you writing again. Is this by David Bowie's son? It sounds fascinating and the 'tears in rain' soliloquy is one I will never forget. Weirdly, I've never been a Sci-if girl with the exception of the utterly brilliant 'blade runner' but I will give this a watch. Thanks for an excellent concise description! Tara. X