Any cinematic space odyssey of the past 40 years surely owes a debt to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey; Moon's most obvious debt is the strategic use of a computer that has a cozy name (Gerty to 2001's HAL) and maybe homicidal tendencies. But where 2001, so maddening and inscrutable, wanted to blow your mind (R.I.P., 1968), Moon wants to explore the less exotic of inner space.
At the tail end of a three-year contract manning, alone, a moon-based drilling station, Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has grown a little twitchy from all the isolation. The live feed was knocked out some time ago and never repaired, so he subsists on pretaped messages from his Earth-bound wife and toddler daughter. In the void, Sam has developed an easygoing rapport with Gerty, a motorized CPU that trails him like a worried mother. Gerty pushes Sam to eat something; Sam replies, "My tummy's a little tender, but thank you."
Gerty's "moods" are expressed by a yellow smiley face, with skepticism or concern tendered in a shift of the eyebrows, a squiggle of the mouth line. It's a marvel of low-tech ingenuity that, in concert with the soothing voice work of Kevin Spacey, produces an actual character for Rockwell to play off.
Moon is confidently measured and philosophically nuanced (and aided by a striking, under-the-skin score by Clint Mansell). If director Duncan Jones felt any first-film jitters, they are nowhere to be seen in his debut, whose technical proficiencies belie the relatively low budget. Cheeky asides leaven what is essentially an existential bummer, as in Sam's morning wake-up music (cheeseball '80s rocker "I Am the One and Only").
In the cold, black bleakness of space, Moon really soars in the connections between man and machine and between man and his better angels.