Science fiction has always reflected our relationship towards technology. In the 50s and 60s people were optimistic that technology would usher in a bright future. As a result, the movies from that era were full of clean-cut young men in spit shined chrome space ships conquering the galaxy. By the 70s there was more concern about pollution and other unintentional side effects of technology, and people began to wonder if the benefits of industrialization outweighed it's costs. Consequently, the movies from that era were grimier and the inventions they featured were more functional than they were fancy. It was a surprisingly short path from Journey to the 7th Planet to Alien.

The word that might best define the modern era's relationship with technology is "ambivalence." In the space race era, most of the notable technological advances were NASA-sized - so expensive to make that they required all of society to foot the bill. That meant that our feelings about that technology was directly tied to how society felt in general. Now technology is more about commercial sales to individual people - which means it is much more closely tied to the boom and bust rhythms of capitalism. As a result, I think we're stuck somewhere in between cynicism and optimism in a way that the last few generations weren't.

Moon is a recent sci-fi film that's a good example of this ambivalence. The film opens up with a generic ad from an energy company promising that their hydrogen fuel technology is making the world a cleaner, safer place. And maybe it is, but we can’t know for sure because the movie never goes to Earth. The story focuses exclusively on a man named Sam who lives on the moon, mining the hydrogen that the people back home will get to use. Sam’s life on the lunar base is a decidedly mixed bag, too mundane to be in step with the rah-rah 50's era, but not nearly grim enough to fit in with apocalypse-obsessed films of the 70s.

For example, Sam is lonely because he has to work by himself, but he can still get messages to and from Earth sporadically, so he isn’t completely isolated. He can also talk to a robot helper named GERTY, but his relationship with GERTY is very complicated. The robot is more loyal to the company that owns him than he is to Sam, but he isn't actively malicious like, say, Hal from 2001. As the movie progresses, we slowly realize that GERTY is keeping secrets from Sam – secrets that are important to Sam's continued survival on the moon – but as we find out more about these secrets, we realize that GERTY might be doing more to help Sam than it initially seemed. Their relationship exists at a specific point in the continuum between sympathetic and sinister that marks it as being very modern compared to the we-can-do-this space race era and the post-Watergate conspiracy obsessed era. It's a relationship that's not unlike what people have with smartphones - where they make your life easier, but they also ruin your ability to interact with the real world and maybe scramble your brain.

The film's visual design also reflects this ambivalent tone. A lot of utopian sci-fi films use gleaming whites to convey how clean and orderly their worlds are, and a lot of dystopian sci-fi movies make everything into a grungy hodge-podge. Moon doesn't fall into either camp. Sam's home is too lightly colored to look alienating, but the base's sleek design is so orderly that Sam's few personal tokens look out of place, meaning that it also isn't particularly welcoming. It was designed to look like a pit stop for transient workers, and that functionality comes through loud and clear. Of course, functionality is better than disfunctionality, but it's a lot worse than comfortable.

There's a bleakness to Sam's life on the moon, since he spends most of his day driving around an inhospitable stretch of dead rock in the service of a company that doesn't seem to have his best interest at heart. However, Sam looks at his job as a temporary setback - as a frustrating ordeal he has to endure for a short time before he can have a big payday back home. As the movie progresses, he becomes more and more doubtful that he's ever going to get the rewards he's earned. But then the film ends on a note of cynical rebirth: Sam has faith in his work again, but at a great cost.

That attitude is right in step with our modern age, where a new toy will come out to great fanfare, and then people will realize that they just fell for the hype and disappointment will set in - but that doesn't mean they won't be queuing up in line when the next gadget comes out. Moon is good proof that we might have regained a bit of our capacity to marvel at the idea of living on a lunar base - but unlike people a few decades ago, we can't sustain that marvel for long.

Winner: Me

Moon on IMDB