Space Oddity: ‘Moon’ and ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’

Duncan Jones’ 2009 film Moon was made on a meager five million dollar budget. At a time when sci-fi films boast budgets of 130 or 230 million dollars (such as Prometheus and Avatar), Jones’ film leaves behind the CGI and special effects. For many viewers, Moon pays homage to science fiction of the past, including movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Alien. Interestingly, Moon’s rejection of flashy special effects and outer space action bears a striking resemblance to The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring Jones’ father, David Bowie.

The Man Who Fell to Earth centers around the alien Thomas Newton (played by Bowie, who was chosen for the part because of his strange, alien-like appearance), who comes to Earth in order to save his family and dying planet. He uses his advanced knowledge to create a million dollar empire and build a ship that will bring him home. During Newton’s time on Earth, however, he discovers booze, sex, and television and falls into a downward spiral. While Newton certainly appears to be an outsider at the beginning of the film, by its end, Newton looks no different than any average American.

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In one scene, Newton pours himself a drink and turns on twelve televisions. He watches programs about lions mating, reptiles hunting, provocative, pretty, young women, and an Elvis movie. Each program captures the depraved nature of the society in which Newton finds himself. Having become consumed by sex, drugs, and mindlessness, his female companion Mary Lou finds him unrecognizable and asks, “Tommy what has happened to you?” He no longer resembles the stranger she fell in love with, but instead blends in with so many other people on Earth.

Eventually, Newton acknowledges that he has fallen prey to the vices of this world. He yells at his televisions, “Get out of my mind all of you! Leave my mind alone!”But even as he yells, he remains fixated on the televisions, never averting his eyes. Newton succumbs to excess consumer culture, feeling incapable of abandoning it.

Newton’s addiction to consumer culture foreshadows his complete transformation into a regular American consumer. Once he is discovered to be an alien, the government takes Newton captive. They subject him to a variety of experiments and imprison him for years. When subjected to an x-ray, Newton finds that the contact lenses he wore to conceal his alien identity are now permanently attached to his eyes. This scene symbolizes the completed transformation—Newton is now nothing more than a man who has fallen victim to human vices and exploited by this society for his advanced knowledge.

Like Newton, Moon’s protagonist Sam Rockwell is an outsider in an unfamiliar land. The film focuses on Sam’s loneliness and isolation as he works toward the end of his three year contact with Lunar, a company that mines Helium-3—the solution to the energy crisis. Moon removes all societal and human influences. Sam’s only source of contact is a computer named GERTY (Kevin Spacy) and an occasional recorded (not live) broadcast from Earth. As a result, Sam uses his time away from home to reflect on his past and make positive changes for his future. Sam appears to have thrived from his time away from Earth and, though lonely, only reflects positively on his time on the Moon, ending his broadcast back to Lunar with, “God Bless America!”

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An accident later in the film leads to the appearance of two Sams. The two men fear each other’s presence, knowing one of them must be a clone. The two Sams eventually make the horrific discovery that they are both clones, created to live on the Moon and oversee Lunar’s multi-million dollar investment in extracting Helium-3. The world of Moon is completely human-less. In many ways, the clones are like GERTY, just a creation with no ability to experience life on their own. When Sam asks GERTY if he will be okay without him, GERTY responds, “Of course. The new Sam and I will be back to our programming as soon as I finish rebooting.” Through GERTY appears to be Sam’s ally and care for Sam, this scene highlights that GERTY is just a machine and cannot care about Sam. But Sam is adamant that, “We’re not programmed—we’re people,” an idea that GERTY and Lunar Industries do not understand. Moon is a film that explores the lack of humanity in an increasingly capitalistic and profit-driven world. By removing the presence of aliens and humans, Jones has created a very different and unique sci-fi film.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth and Moon are two films that reject the big budget and gratuitous graphics of so many sci-fi films, focusing instead on stories that take a self-critical look at the state of the human race. The Man Who Fell to Earth explores the idea of society corrupting Newton—and by extension, us. Jones’ film goes a step further and explores completely dehumanized society ruled by corporate exploitation. Sam is a creation of a corporation looking to exploit technology (cloning) for a greater paycheck. GERTY reveals that the clones fall ill every three years and are terminated; his job is to revive a new clone to oversee the mining of Helium-3, what Lunar claims to be a clean energy. However, the image of clean energy is destroyed as we see that Lunar’s clean energy comes from the morally questionable ability to clone and the mass destruction of clones when they are no longer useful. In The Man Who Fell to Earth, Newton succumbed to consumer culture; in Moon, consumerism is the only way of life. As the film ends and Sam returns to Earth to expose Lunar, a new broadcast reports that Lunar’s stock has crashed. Lunar’s morally questionable business practices are exposed, but there is no discussion of moral or ethical business practice. Instead, Lunar’s punishment is a drop in stock—the loss of capital.

The two films focus on an alien presence and use a sense of isolation to highlight the corrupt nature of the world that defines their individual eras.  Science fiction often serves as social commentary and The Man Who Fell to Earth is an interesting but depressing exploration of exploitation and corruption inherent within human nature. We watch Newton fall prey to a depraved society; instead of working towards saving his family, he becomes a drunk and loses his money and freedom. Moon is another iteration of the same idea of corruption and exploitation, centering on an increasingly dehumanized world of clones and robots. The generational gap between the two films (between father and son) seeks to highlight the ongoing cautionary tale of depravity, money, and excess.

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