There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
Moon, a 2009 indie science fiction drama, was co-written by Nathan Parker with director Duncan Jones who both made their feature filmmaking debuts. Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, a contract employee working for an energy company on an almost entirely automated lunar compound. As he nears the end of his three-year rotation, Sam has an accident, and during the process of recovery, he inadvertently discovers that nearly everything he’d been led to believe about his mission has been a lie. Fearing for his life, Sam spends his last days on the Moon executing a daring caper, with the help of his robotic assistant GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey).
Why watch now?
Because the indie science fiction drama I Am Mother is now available on Netflix.
Co-written by Michael Lloyd Green with director Grant Sputore — also both making their feature filmmaking debuts — I Am Mother stars Clara Rugaard as a teenager who’s spent her entire life inside a bunker, tended to by a robot called “Mother” (voiced by Rose Byrne). The machine has put “Daughter” through a series of rigorous intellectual and physical tests to prepare her for the challenge of leading a new breed of laboratory-created humans, meant to repopulate a post-apocalyptic Earth. One day, an unnamed, injured woman (played by Hilary Swank) knocks on the bunker door, bringing dangerous new information that may or may not be true. Suddenly, Daughter doesn’t know if she can believe anything Mother has ever told her.
I Am Mother is marvelously acted and features an impressive mix of CGI and puppetry, creating a sense of visual wonder and verisimilitude that’s rare for a film set almost entirely within one indoor location. The story also encourages the audience to second-guess everything, with a story full of surprising twists, including one at the end that may not register fully until viewers think about it later. In short, this is a thoughtful genre piece, pondering the biggest question regarding the long, intertwined history of humans and robots: who’s really been programming whom?
This is a fairly common theme in speculative fiction, which often considers the intimate, complicated relationship between people and machines. At the movies, the likes of Forbidden Planet, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Her, and Ex Machina have all hinged on the emotional and practical attachments humans can have with their super advanced devices and vice versa. And then there are the Terminator and Matrix franchises, which have taken a broader, more dystopian view on the future of technology.
Moon also has a fairly dark outlook on where automation and artificial intelligence may be headed. Nevertheless, a big part of the movie’s appeal is the interactions between Sam and GERTY. Roughly the first 15 minutes of the film follows their daily routine, as the handy Sam makes sure everything’s running smoothly while bouncing wisecracks off a robot, which only ever responds in an even-toned voice and with amusingly simplified, emoji-like faces. Even before the plot kicks in, Moon creates its own believable little world, populated by the kind of likable everyman who might give viewers some hope for the future — if only to know that the human spirit can endure in the harshest conditions.
Who it’s for
Fans of smart, twisty science fiction and Sam Rockwell.
Because Rockwell has been celebrated so much in recent years — winning an Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, nominated for another Oscar for Vice, sure to be nominated for an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the recently completed Fosse — it’s easy to forget that for much of the first two decades of his career, he toiled in relative obscurity. Rockwell was beloved by attentive movie buffs for his memorable supporting turns in the likes of Galaxy Quest and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but he wasn’t that well-known by the general public. Ten years ago, Moon was a rare starring role for Rockwell. As the only human being on-screen for much of its running time, he proved he was capable of doing more than just adding hilariously weird energy to an ensemble.
Casting Rockwell in Moon was a masterstroke because his earthy presence helps make the clean-lined, blindingly white lunar base feel more lived-in. That’s necessary for this story because when Sam Bell finds out that his home for the past three years isn’t what he thought, his feeling of disorientation has to be pronounced. Unsure of his reality, he’s forced to rely on the possibly untrustworthy GERTY. Though Moon is a suspenseful and even occasionally very funny movie, at its core lies a profound alienation, as an anxious man looks into the blank face of his robot pal and wonders what’s really clicking and whirring inside that electronic brain.
Where to see it
Netflix. The service also has Duncan Jones’ eccentric science fiction / neo-noir hybrid Mute, a less crowd-pleasing film that Moon fans might still find rewarding.