In the film Moon (2009), Sam Bell manages an automated surface mining facility on the Moon. His three year contract is almost over; he’s looking forward to returning to Earth to see his wife and child. From this moment on, things begin to unravel for him.
Jack Harper is Tech 49 in the film Oblivion (2013). He works on Tower 49, a sky platform, where he lives, and uses as a base for his patrol craft. He maintains and repairs drones, used for hunting Scavengers or ‘Scavs’: alien lifeforms responsible for invading Earth.
Sam and Jack have helpers, in what is otherwise a lonely mission. Sam has GERTY a computer with AI, but relatively little ability to physically interact with the space around it. Apart from verbal communication it has a screen with simple emoji faces to show empathy. Jack has a co-worker, Victoria, who is also his lover. The helpers provide a counterpoint to their otherwise isolated existence, they provide a mirror that reveals their state of mind.
In both scenarios central command is remote. To exacerbate the disconnect the communications channel is routinely off-line. Part of GERTY and Victoria’s role as helpers is to maintain the channel of communication and to ensure that Sam and Jack are able to perform adequately.
Sam and Jack both suffer from a disconnect between how they perceive their life, and the truth of why they are actually there. Gradually, their feelings of uncertainty and doubt grow, until they uncover evidence that things are not what they appear to be. The process of realisation leads to a profound revelation, which questions their identity.
The plot twist in both stories is that their perception of reality is a fabrication created to make them productive workers. Sam and Jack are clones, each with implanted or wiped memories. Sam has never met his ‘wife’, because she is living on Earth with the man he was cloned from. Due to radiation sickness the operatives have a three year lifespan, after which they are put to sleep and incinerated. A new clone, with identical memory implants, is woken up. An accident leads to the existence of two clones living together simultaneously. This generates questions about identity and authenticity. Who is the real Sam Bell? Likewise, Jack is a disposable clone doing the routine dirty work as part of an ‘effective team’ with Victoria. He also has to come to terms with the fact that the ‘scavs’ are actually heavily camouflaged humans.
Sam’s implanted memories, and Jack’s memory wiping — along with plausible cover stories — are necessary to keep them motivated and productive.
Sam’s mining management job, for the faceless Lunar Industries corporation, and Jack’s realisation that he’s working for the aliens, sums up the pointlessness of their pre-revelatory lives. They are tiny, disposable cogs in a big machine — a machine that does not care about them. Everything they believed in, and thought important, has been fabricated. There are echoes here of The Matrix (1999), and THX 118 (1971).
Clones are often associated with like-minded thinking, and social programming, but Sam and Jack develop their self-identity through the choices they make. They transform from a victim of an all-encompassing conspiracy into a hero, who defines who they are, by fighting the system that created them.
Once they have gained self-awareness — along with a value system — they can live according to their own volition. The circle of life can be completed; life (awakening), and death, when they sacrifice their lives, and new-found self-identity, for a cause beyond themselves.