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July 11 2014

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A Conversation With Moon‘s Duncan Jones

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“Yeah, that’s pretty much unavoidable,” admits Duncan Jones. “But on the other hand, I don’t mind.” The subject Jones is addressing is a surprisingly un-touchy one: The director is set to release his debut feature, a sci-fi flick about a man floating alone in space, and certain Major Tom allusions seem inevitable, given that Jones’ dad is one David Bowie. But Moon, starring Sam Rockwell, stands up to the “Space Oddity” comparisons that have run amok since the film screened at Sundance earlier this year. A taut thought experiment on the vanishing separation between technology and humanity, Moonis a far cry from the whiz-bang escapism of Star Trek, a movie Jones admits he enjoyed. For that matter, the film is also a far cry from the work Jones was previously best known for, the controversial “Fashion vs. Style” ad for French Connection in the U.K. Moon is, however, perfectly in keeping for a man whose college thesis was entitled “How to Kill Your Computer Friend: An Investigation of the Mind/Body Problem and How It Relates to the Hypothetical Creation of a Thinking Machine,” and whose dad is, well, David Bowie. Here, Jones talks to Style.com about Twitter, Helium 3, and a computer named Gerty.

On the surface, Moon is a movie about a guy who, at some uncertain point in the near future, is overseeing the mining of the moon for a source of green energy. But really, the film is a meditation on self. Which part of the story came to you first?

Really, the whole idea for the film came out of my wanting to work with Sam Rockwell. I met with him about three years ago to discuss another project, which was maybe too ambitious for a first feature, and as we were chatting we began talking about the kinds of movies we both loved. There was this period of science fiction filmmaking in the late seventies and early eighties—films like Outland, Silent Running, Ridley Scott’s Alien, where these blue-collar guys would be thrown into alien environments, and you’d watch them try to maintain their humanity. Or you’d see how their humanity starts to be eroded away. That was the kind of film both Sam and I wanted to make. So, I left that meeting and immediately began thinking about Moon.


Then a few things kind of came together at once. I needed to come up with something Sam was going to get excited about as an actor, and performing multiple parts was, I thought, a good unique challenge. And then on the technical side, I had a special-effects background from commercials, and I knew that having an actor play multiple parts was something that could look great, if you did it properly, and it wouldn’t cost too much money. And then on a personal level, a philosophical level, I liked the idea of being able to meet yourself in person. You know, what if you could come face to face with a younger version of yourself and somehow let that younger you know that everything is going to be OK?

I’m going to dwell on the moon mining for a moment, because that part of the film seemed…scarily viable. I could see it happening. The element those machines are digging up, is that a real thing?

Totally real. That idea for a base on the moon came from a nonfiction book called Entering Space, and it’s all about how you would go about colonizing the solar system. Like, in a financially viable way. The author used to work at NASA, or for NASA…Anyway, what this book suggests is, the first thing you could do is set up a base to mine this thing Helium 3, an actual isotope that’s plentiful on the moon. If you could harvest it, you’d be able to use it as a fuel for fusion power. We’re not quire there, technologically, but in the future that will become a very valuable commodity. The moon could be the new Saudi Arabia.

Entering Space, was that, like, casual reading for you?

Yeah. I am nerd, hear me roar. I read it a few years ago and it was one of those things that stuck in my head.

Kevin Spacey has—I guess you could call it a cameo, as the voice of the computer Gerty. At first I was expecting that computer to go in a kind of Dark Robotic Overlord direction, but really, your take on technology comes out much more ambivalent than that.

I’m more pessimistic about people’s behavior than I am about technology. I think technology is always created to work for people; it’s how people end up using the technology that’s the problem. And there are ways you can predict what’s going to go wrong—jealousy, loneliness, anger; these are things we’ve had for thousands of years. On the other hand, I don’t think we realize how quickly technology is evolving our experience of the world. Like, social networking tools like Twitter, they’re really changing how we relate to each other. Year by year, the way I keep in contact with my friends is completely different.

Do you Twitter?

Yeah, I Twitter. It’s nice—I feel much closer to my friends, and even the people who follow me that I don’t know personally, I feel like I’ve developed a kind of relationship with them. Or, at least, with the portrayal of themselves they put online…

Does everyone ask you about your dad?

Yes. But that’s OK. This is my first feature film, so there’s only two things you can really talk to me about—my film and my dad. Right now, both are equally valid.

Speaking of, do you have your next project lined up?

Actually, it’s the film I brought to Sam originally. A much bigger, more thriller-y, dynamic thing, but a good companion piece to Moon. Also sci-fi, but still character-driven, set in a future Berlin. The script is out to actors now.

I can’t think of any David Bowie songs that reference Germany, so at least there’s no gimme hook for the headline writers.

Well, hopefully by the time I do the next film, people will feel like they’ve covered that ground. Or maybe it will take a few more films before people stop bringing up my dad, who knows. I’m OK with being known as his son. For now.

Photo: Courtesy of Sony Classics

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