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Man in Moon

Interesting how science fiction so often proves an ideal platform for investigating reality. I guess because we get to set the ground rules ourselves, almost like experimental test conditions. In practice, it is hard to identify one's own worldview; it is hard to be consistent within it; it is hard to coexist with people whose worldviews are different. Science fiction sneaks under the radar of our presuppositions by legitimising a suspension of disbelief. That the world in question is invented removes any ambiguity about the rules under which it operates, supplying fictitious but well-defined premises from which to explore all sorts of interesting 'what ifs'.[1]

I was delighted by 'Moon'; as playful and thoughtful a sci-fi film as you could hope for. Plenty deep, but completely unpretentious. [2] A brief synopsis, I suppose, to begin…(see the Wikipedia page for more but there's a fair old number of spoilers in there).

Sam Bell is nearing the end of a 3-year stint on the Moon, where he works for Lunar Industries, overseeing the automated harvesters extracting helium-3 -- the new 'solution' to the energy crisis on earth. His life is extremely solitary: the satellite communications system has been down since he arrived, so his only contact with his wife and young daughter (born after he left) is via recorded messages, and his only company on the base is the AI assistant GERTY (similarity to HAL deliberately unsubtle).

Two weeks before he is to return to Earth, strange events turn things upside down and, after an accident (without meaning to skip too much and/or give too much away) he wakes up to find himself accompanied on the base by, well, himself. The two Sams have to figure out why there are two of them, who is the 'real' Sam, how they feel about themselves and each other, and what to do about it.

This plot construct provides great material for thoughtful exploration (too much to write about all in one go). But the overarching theme is definitely one of identity. It is like the whole human experience in miniature, as Sam is forced to confront himself (giving rise to some interesting fight scenes!), his past (the hot-headedness of 'young' Sam), his future (the physical decay of 'old' Sam), and the meaning of it all.

His solution to 'what does it mean to be human?', at least so far as he works it out in practice, looks a lot like N.T. Wright's answer: "It means being made for relationship, for stewardship, for worship---or, to put it more vividly, for sex, gardening and God." (N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Easter). (All three of these facets can be derived from the first two chapters of Genesis: stewardship (Genesis 2:15) and relationship (Genesis 2:18) explicitly so; worship implicitly, by virtue of God's role as loving creator and sustainer).

Sam Bell, then, seeks purpose in stewardship, lovingly tending a pot-plant garden and constructing a model replica of his home town. (Couldn't help but think of Silent Running -- essentially a film about astronautic gardening). The place of relationship in the film is, like other sci-fi films before it (Solaris, Silent Running, 2001: A Space Odyssey), most powerfully established via its absence -- i.e., in the solitude of the protagonist. That 'it is not good for man to be alone' quickly becomes clear (Genesis 2:18). The lonely Sam delights in the intermittent recorded messages from home, and has erotic dreams about his wife. And, when the other Sam appears, his confusion and distress is almost outweighed by the sheer relief of no longer being alone (a sentiment most definitely not shared by 'young' Sam, yet to undergo the ordeal of isolation).

The concept of 'worship' is less obviously expressed (although we later discover that his main additions to the model town were a church and a salvation army -- an interesting off-hand touch). But whilst worship in a narrow sense is not a prominent theme, the search for objective truth definitely is: for example, the determined quest to make 'real' contact with earth by driving outside of the base perimeter to where the 'long range comms' are no longer interrupted. Reminded me a bit of that bit in Acts 17:
…he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him.
Anyway, it's a film with lots to say about lots of stuff, and it says it all without taking itself too seriously. Go watch it! I've run out of useful comment, if ever I had any to begin with, so I'll hand over to Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."

[1] Not all sci-fi achieves this. Star Wars, whilst good fun, seems to begin with a rather crude pantheism and throw aliens and space travel into the mix...all of which which remain subservient to the plot rather than ever being explored in any interesting sense. Solaris (though I've only seen the Clooney remake) was just boring postmodernism to me: "there is no objective truth, so we'll just float in space, some weird stuff will happen, and make of it what you will". Again, not exactly making the most of the opportunities presented by the genre.

[2] Unlike Solaris -- pretentious, without becoming deep. Though such accusations might have people quoting Matthew 7:3-5 at me.