He stares at the screen waiting for a message. It lights and his wife appears; her smile a tight line. “Hey someone wants to say something to you,” she hoists his daughter up. “Hi daddy.” He strokes the screen “Hey honey,” but the message ends and through the window, he sees the chalk-white lunar landscape, vast star-speckled space and floating in the distance is earth, where his family lives. After a three year contract to mine the moon for fuel, astronaut Sam Bell is going home.
In the new film Moon, Bell played with slacker ease by Sam Rockwell, ambles through the workday chatting with GERTY his computer buddy ala Kubrick’s Hal 9000. They banter in the antiseptic halls, watch old sitcoms but he’s anxious. In two weeks he returns to earth. Like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey or Tom Hanks in Cast Away, Bell is a symbol of alienated man and the urge to find home. It’s an old story, retold endlessly but what matters in each re-telling is how we are lost and what home means.
Bell stands in for the Post-Industrial worker, trapped in a dull drone, eyes weary from studying computer screens, insecure because they are an appendage to a bureaucratic machine more valuable than life. And this is our inheritance. Each generation walks into the history of the preceding one and lost in its ruined halls looks for exit. For Bell imprisoned in a cocoon of technology that exit is the family but he learns that even they are not real.
A mining tank hits a snag and Bell drives out to but weakened by fever he sees a hazy hallucination of his wife and crashes. He wakes up in the infirmary, looking young and fresh but dazed. He learns that a mining-tank is broke and drives out, finds it, plies its lid and finds a knocked-out man inside. Bell hauls him back to the base, lays him on the floor and stares at his own face. “Why does he look like me GERTY!”
The injured man revives and the men circle each other. Bell looking at Bell, “It’s obvious you’re a clone.” The young Bell grimaces, “Oh really, maybe you’re the clone. Ever think of that?” But they suspect a deeper horror, they both are.
In a panic the older Bell, hobbles to the computer and unlocks a secret record of Bells each eager to return, each sick and feeble, each told to lay down in an earthbound capsule and in a flash of fire are cremated. He limps to the cremation room, fingers the ash at the base and pulls up a floor panel. He and the young Bell climb down a ladder into a long echoing hall. Rows of morgue-like drawers line the walls; they pull one out and see a sleeping Bell.
The truth is they are both clones and their genetic clock is sped up so they only live three years. It’s why each Bell gets sick at the end of the contract. It’s why the communication satellite is always “malfunctioning”. They are not meant to leave. They are disposable men.
It’s easy to read into this the state of workers, interchangeable, expendable, cheap and whose lives are only means to the end of profit. The young Bell says flatly, “That team the company sent to fix the mining tank. There not coming to fix it. They’re coming to kill us. We weren’t supposed to be awake at the same time. We weren’t supposed to know the truth.”
But the older Bell has to know and drives a moon-rover out beyond the base, pulls out a laptop and calls home. A young woman looks at him, “Hello.” He asks if it’s the Bell residence. “Yes may I help you?” He asks to speak to his wife. “She died years ago. I’m her daughter.” His lips purse, “Oh sweetie how did mommy die, are you ok,” Befuddled, her eyebrows pinch, “Dad? Someone’s asking about mom.” A man’s voice booms, “Who is it?” It’s the original Bell and the clone shuts the laptop. He turns and turns in his seat, eyes watering, staring at the earth and saying, “I want to go home. I want to go home.”
Here the movie make a critique of the genre of origin-journey that it belongs to since unlike Homer’s Odyssey there is no home. He remembers a life he did not live. Memories are his prison. Against the humanist tradition in which inside each of us is a unique ego, a soul that transcends the body, the film Moon shows us a body trapped in a manufactured soul.
It is a critique that philosopher Michel Foucault began in Discipline and Punish where he writes, “It would be wrong to say the soul is an illusion…On the contrary it exists, it is produced permanently around, on, within the body by the functioning of power that is exercised on those punished. The soul is the effect of political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.”
The wife, the child the iconography of home was a false memory, installed as a repetition compulsion to pull him back into a scheduled life and death. At the end, the execution team sent by the mining company opens the door, “Hey Sam, where are you buddy?” They find the older Bell in the crashed rover. He planted himself inside so they would not look for the young Bell who hid inside a capsule and shot to earth. In the last moments we see him yelling with joy as he rockets to earth. He’s yelling because instead of going home, he can create one.