Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The One You Might Have Saved (Redux)

That crazy Arbogast is at it again. More savings for the ongoing One You Might Have Saved Blogathon. I'm always game for saving a doomed character in movie history with whom I feel a certain degree of connection so what the hell, let's do it again, but beware, SPOILERS ABOUND!

For this entry I choose Sam Bell number five. The movie is Moon, directed by Duncan Jones and starring Sam Rockwell as Sam Bell, which is, for what it's worth, the fifth time in his career he has played a character named "Sam." If you've seen Moon you know that there are an endless number of Sam Bell clones who all serve mining duty on the moon for three years until they are disposed of, or die, to make way for the next clone who will serve for three more years and so on. None are allowed to know they are clones or that they will never leave. Each clone works alone and is under the impression that he is the real Sam Bell and will go home after a three year tour of duty.

If you think I just spoiled the movie for you I didn't, not really at least. For one thing, I did give a spoiler warning at the top of the post but mainly, the movie itself is not concerned with a big twist/reveal at the end of the movie. The clone element of the story is revealed fairly early on and the movie quickly becomes a tale of two clones, Sam Bell 5 and Sam Bell 6, who become dependent on each other in much the same way Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight do in Midnight Cowboy. While many reviews, like this excellent one from This Island Rod, rightly mention nods to 2001, Blade Runner and Outland, none I have seen so far mention Midnight Cowboy and to me, that's the primary influence.

Like all the best science fiction, it's not about the setting or the technology, it simply uses setting and technology to explore character. And so, while Midnight Cowboy and Moon may take place in worlds some 235,000 miles apart, they tell much the same story: two men struggling to make their way in the world, realizing too late for one that helping each other is what they needed to do all along. And what they need to do in this case is get off of the moon before a "rescue" team shows up to correct a mistake in the system, that is, eliminate one of the clones.

The newer clone, Sam 6, is awakened to start his tour of duty, memory implants of a life on earth in place, after Sam 5 has an accident leaving him stranded on the surface in a large moon rover. The glitch in the system occurs when Sam 6 finds Sam 5 and brings him back to base. There are two of them now, and they were never supposed to know of the other. This presents a problem for the company running the operation. See, they don't know the two know of each other. They think Sam 5 is still stranded on the surface and are sending that previously mentioned "rescue" mission to get rid of him before Sam 6 discovers him, which, of course, he already has, unbeknownst to them. Sam 6 sees all of this coming and devises an escape plan while the older clone, Sam Bell 5, gets sicker and sicker. Constantly hacking and walking with an odd limp, more vulgar and unkempt than Sam 6, he is the lunar spiritual brother of Ratzo Rizzo.

By the end, a plan is devised and an escape is made but one that Sam 5 can never enjoy. His diseased body is too battered and bruised for this world and while the journey home may give him hope, as the trip to Miami does for Ratzo, it's a trip we know he'll never survive. And so, placed back in his rover for the rescue team to find, he dies and while we know he must, we still don't want him to. He's so helpless and filled with the desire to see his daughter, a daughter that does exist for the real Sam Bell, but is nothing more than a stranger to Sam 5, that we want him to make that journey home, desperately. Which brings us around to the whole point of this post and of Arbogast's ongoing blogathon. If I could, I'd walk into that station with the best medical team I could find and, by God, we'd make Sam better. We'd get him well and bring him back to earth safely. And even though his daughter wouldn't know him, since her real father, the real Sam Bell, is fifteen years older, I'd make sure, somehow, he got a chance to at least see her. And all of this is a testament to just how well Sam Rockwell pulls this whole thing off. He takes two identical characters and makes them so different, I forgot, and easily, that it was the same actor playing them. Rockwell makes Sam 5 so sympathetic that when he finally does shuffle off this mortal coil we wish only that we could've saved him. And if I could, I'd go all the way to the moon to do so.