Jun 18 2012
When Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” he probably didn’t realize he was pitching the logline to 2009’s Moon. Sam Rockwell stars as Sam Bell, a man on the verge of completing a three year contract harvesting something called helium-3 from the far side of the moon. After a minor mental breakdown causes Sam to crash his rover, he awakens in the base’s infirmary. Things really get interesting when he escapes the custody of GERTY, the automated system that runs everything, and returns to his crash site to find himself still inside the rover.
You see, both Sam Bells are clones, with many more stashed away in the forbidden lower levels of the ship. Moon doesn’t advertise itself as a horror film per se, but the things that happen in this movie are straight-up frightening. If anyone can be called the antagonist, it’s the company (Lunar Industries) behind the clones and the government that allows them to carry out such supremely unethical work (the good ole USA). But both of these targets are never shown, barely referenced and entirely beside the point. Moon plays on the idea of fear, the unraveling that fear can produce, and in some instances, the truths said unraveling may reveal.
Moon plays with the notion of protagonists so substantially that it relegates any type of antagonist to an auxiliary role. We think we’re watching Sam Bell, then we think we’re watching Sam Bell’s clone (the real Bell being in the crashed rover). But no, both of these Bells are clones slated to be incinerated when their shifts are up. There’s not even confirmation that the real real Bell knows about what’s going on up above him. We certainly sympathize with the Bell clones but once a movie plays its hand with a major twist, viewers are hesitant to relinquish their full trust again until the credits role. With this much uncertainty, it becomes impossible to pin the evil on anything more concrete than the greed of man and the dangers of science.
1. Rosemary’s Baby
It’s a shame Roman Polanski is a horrible person in real life, because he’s a damn fine filmmaker behind the camera. Rosemary’s Baby is the perfect example of a horror film where the evil has no shape. For much of the movie, Rosemary’s peculiar appetites, weird visions and mounting paranoia are presented jointly as either signs that her baby has something majorly demonic going on, or that she’s just totally losing her mind. We’re inclined to side with Rosemary, having followed her from contented housewife to malnourished maniac, but the more every person in her life uniformly insists it’s all in her head, the more we must consider the possibility.
In one of the best final scenes in any movie ever, Rosemary discovers her neighbors and their associates are all part of a devil-worshipping group that pitched in to help Satan get her pregnant. Even her husband has converted to the 666 club. When Rosemary goes to see what she’s given birth to, the creature remains off-camera but her reaction to the bassinet says it all. One could argue the bad guys and gals of Rosemary’s Baby are the worshippers who drug, delude and imprison Rosemary while a demon child grows inside her. That’s all true, but it’s the same as saying the four hundred nameless Nazi soldiers in WWII movies are the bad guys. They are, of course, but even in the films where he’s not shown, it’s the Allies vs. Adolf Hitler. In the same way Hitler is the unseen bad guy in movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Pianist (Polanski, I like him), Satan is the unseen villain in Rosemary’s Baby.
Okay, but then why does Linda Blair aka Regan McNeil in The Exorcist count? In The Exorcist, the devil is present – he speaks, he moves, he blows chunks. The fact that he happens to do those things through the vessel of Regan’s body doesn’t negate his presence in the film. In the case of Rosemary’s Baby, we never see the devil (aside from a foggy glimpse in the impregnating montage). The consequences of his actions are seen in Rosemary’s pregnancy, and her neighbors and company carry out Satan’s wishes but operate with a mob mentality rather than as individuals. That’s what makes Rosemary’s Baby so scary after all these years – any nice neighbor, or their friends, could actually be a devil-worshipper, and not just a “he’s going through a phase” devil worshipper, one who actually communicates with Satan. Thus, the bad guy in Rosemary’s Baby is in one sense our trust in strangers, and in another, our naïveté about how evil the world can be.
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