Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Making Contact: Sam's Connections to Self, Others, and Audience

Like many classmates, I was struck by the bleak isolation of Moon. In particular I focused on Sam’s desire for physical human contact. Early in the Sams’ time together, Sam-5 tells Sam-6, “I just want to shake your hand. Will you shake my hand,” only to be denied by a gruff, “Maybe later.” These dueling desires for contact and separation make sense in light of the Sams’ unique experiences. Sam-5 has spent three years of his life without direct contact with another human. Sam-6 “remembers” being on Earth a week ago. The Sams’ first real physical interaction (after another rejection – this time of a high-five) is a fairly serious fight, heightened by the fact that Sam-5’s deteriorating health quickly brings on a nosebleed, even though Sam-6 “barely touched [him].” Again, physical contact has a greater impact for Sam-5 than it does for Sam-6, this time represented by a physical manifestation of its effect. Finally, near the end of the movie, having reached a mutual understanding (and aware that neither of them has ever really experienced human contact before), the Sams exchange a high-five. In another film (and at first in this one) I would have seen this gradually-formed connection between doubles as symbolic of the protagonist accepting himself. But that doesn’t quite work here because, as Kai pointed out, the question of human identity is so overtly unstable within the movie. It’s hard to distinguish the protagonist, because neither Sam is the original. They are projections of someone who came before.

This idea of projections of someone else’s life carries through into the video messages from Tess and the accompanying implanted memories. From a meta-narrative perspective, I was reminded of our discussion of Total Recall and the importance of distinguishing the real within fiction. In a sense, characters are always projections to us. We use them for entertainment instead of energy, but we’re the ones who bring them to life for a predetermined period and with a predetermined course to follow. Their lives begin there, and all reference to the time before come from implanted memories (in the form of words or flashbacks) that we’re expected to accept as part of their reality. When it’s over, the characters basically stop existing, though thanks to DVDs and the internet we can bring the same character back to life and start the story over again. The whole movie, then, can be seen as a movie about movies, although looking at it this way kind of muddles any important messages that come through when we look at it in terms of outsourcing. It's something of an oversimplification to connect the destruction of each Sam to the end of a movie, since characters can certainly stick with the audience and the audience can imagine the rest of a character's life. But Sam-6’s story incorporates this idea as well. He gets out of the cycle of the character, leaving viewers with a specific question of what happens next. Like each Sam with his implanted memories, the audience forms a strong connection to video projections. We get invested in them almost as if they were real people. Movies are a form of connection through projection, even though we know they’re not real.

As a related tangent to the idea of isolation and connection, reality versus fiction, I also thought about Sam as a prophet, beginning with the references to different work areas as Gospel writers and culminating with Sam-6’s voyage to Earth to spread his version of the truth (it seems to mixed reception). I noticed a few connections between Sam’s story and the Gospel stories of Jesus. Like Jesus, each Sam had three crucial years before death and resurrection (of another Sam). Sam wasn’t quite a carpenter, but he did spend 938 hours (the 39 days falling just short of the Biblical 40) doing some careful woodworking. By the time I started doing math to prove my point, I was beginning to feel a little unsure about making the connection in the first place, but I think if the references were intentional then perhaps so was their lack of credibility. Having followed Sam through the entire movie, the audience is left never knowing what exactly we should believe in.


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