Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance 2009: Space Oddities

[Film Fest] It happens every year, but it doesn't usually happen this early: An unusual plot element that is shared by more than one Sundance movie.

Perhaps it shouldn't be quite so surprising; if you gather 100-some-odd features, you’re going to run into some infinite number of monkeys/infinite number of typewriters-type law-of-averages stuff. But the precise nature of such confluences continues to catch me off guard.

Here’s the problem with the particular case of Moon and The Clone Returns Home: I can’t talk about the plot element in question without MASSIVE SPOILER ALERTS. So if you want to remain clear of mind regarding either a Sam Rockwell-starring science-fiction drama or a Japanese metaphysical science-fiction drama, please exit now.

Sad observation: I’m guessing the latter warning didn’t scare too many people away. But there’s some compelling stuff in Kanji Nakajima’s The Clone Returns Home, which deals with an astronaut named Kohei Takahara (Mitsuhiro Oikawa) who volunteers to be cloned in the unlikely event that he should experience a tragic accident in space. And sure enough, the tragic accident occurs. What follows is primarily philosophical, as the nature of the soul is addressed through various visually moody scenes that don’t seem to make much logical sense. The real gripping stuff happens before that, as Takahara’s widow—in a single, wrenching sustained take—wrestles with whether to bring back a simulation of her dead husband, or allow him to rest in peace.

So where’s the funky overlap with Moon? Seriously, spoiler-haters, leave now. Well, we know from the outset that Sam Bell (Rockwell) is on the dark side of the moon in the near future, working for a company mining helium for earth’s clean energy. He’s nearing the end of his three-year commitment, and ready to return home to his wife and daughter—but son of a gun if an unlikely tragic accident doesn’t occur. And son of a gun if the solution that the energy company had planned isn’t the same as the one in The Clone Returns Home. While similar questions of identity ensue, Moon seems content to skim the surface of its issues in favor of building an ominous mood. But it was eerie … almost as if someone had cloned the same movie … (Scott Renshaw)

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