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Moon: The Double Meaning of Sam Rockwell’s Costume Design

Moon (2009) is a love letter to the science fiction movies that director Duncan Jones grew up watching. He stated his intention was, “to create something which felt comfortable within that canon of those science fiction films from the sort of late seventies to the early eighties”*. Jones’ eerie story of a moon base worker who discovers uncomfortable truths about himself during a three year solo mission certainly achieved that. One of the central reasons the film succeeds, attests blogger Dallas King is its subtly readable costume design by Jane Petrie.

Petrie’s only previous science fiction credit was in the costume department for Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999). With Moon, however, she avoided the fantastical elements of sci-fi to create a look that felt more science fact rather than fiction, while still evoking the spirit of genre classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Solaris (1972), Outland (1981) and in particular Silent Running (1972) and Alien (1979).

Shrewdly, Duncan Jones chose not to confirm the year that the events of Moon take place, instead giving an impression of “the not-too-distant future”. This allowed Petrie to create designs that would not prematurely age the film, as fashion and technology are two aspects of science fiction that can quickly make a production seem dated.

In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a blue collar worker who could easily have passed for a member of Nostromo’s crew in Alien. Sam is employed to oversee the operation of the Sarang moon station that harvests Helium 3, an alternative energy source now used on Earth. He anxiously awaits the end of his contract so he can return to his wife and daughter. Since the station is fully automated thanks to a HAL 9000-esque computer called GERTY, Sam is little more than a caretaker. In many ways he has a similar role to the Jack Torrance character in The Shining (1980). Sam begins to witness and experience strange occurrences in the station, soon discovering that, like Jack, he has “always been the caretaker”.

Sam’s employers, Lunar Industries, follow a hierarchical structure of shadowy ‘suits’ at the top down to regular ‘joes’ working aboard mining stations and transport ships. Films such as Moon and Alien may be set in the future, but the Sam Bells and Ripleys of these worlds are still just roughnecks and space truckers, and this is reflected in their costume. The signature item featured in Moon is Sam Bell’s grey jump/flight suit. It appears to be a mix of maintenance coverall and full body flight suit, complete with mission patches.

Some of these mission patches are similar to those on Freeman Lowell’s (Bruce Dern) flight suit in Silent Running. A comparable black and orange check insignia is actually a feature on both suits; seen on Freeman’s right shoulder and Sam’s left arm.

In addition to the Lunar Industries flight suit, the rest of Sam’s attire on Sarang is made up of his own casual clothing. These garments are most directly influenced by Alien, including a floral Hawaiian shirt and baseball cap reminiscent of that worn by Harry Dean Stanton’s character Brett.

Even Sam’s spacesuit is a close approximation of the heavy duty style that Ripley wears during her final encounter with the Xenomorph.

However, Sam’s most interesting costume does not receive more than ten seconds of screen time, yet takes on an intriguing double meaning as the plot of Moon unfolds. Following a crash with one of the harvesters outside the base, Sam awakens back inside suffering from memory loss but no further injuries. Upon investigation he discovers the wounded Sam outside and brings him to Sarang, demanding answers from GERTY. It is then revealed that unbeknown to Sam, he is a clone created from the original Sam Bell (including memory implants) in order to operate the station alone for three years. At the end of this cycle clones are incinerated, under belief they are actually entering hibernation for a return trip to earth.

During the film’s opening sequence that establishes Sam’s routine on the station he is pictured wearing a yellow t-shirt with the phrase “Wake me when it’s quitting time”.

Initially this can be taken as reference to Sam’s mental state coming to the end of a three year contract and being the sole crew member managing the station. Yet his t-shirt, in a similar way to the use of the pop song ‘The One and Only’ by Chesney Hawkes, takes on another meaning when it is later revealed that this Sam Bell is, in fact, a clone.

When the two Sams search the station they discover a secret room full of inactive clones. Next to one of the clones, along with other familiar garments is the yellow t-shirt. The “Wake me when it’s quitting time” phrase now becomes a literal reference to the clone’s activation upon the previous Sam Bell completing his contract. Just as the first use of ‘The One and Only’ is a tease regarding Sam being on his own at the station, second time around the audience are aware there are multiple clones; the irony here of course is that Sam is anything but the one and only.

Collectively, Petrie and Jones have utilised stylistic costume choices to differentiate between the two Sam clones. Sam 2 is predominantly seen wearing the aforementioned flight suit, which is tailored to be more fitted to his body; the remainder of his clothes which are clean and new. The only further outfit he wears is the yellow sleep suit that causes Sam 1 to comically remark (he looks like), “a radioactive tampon or a banana with a yeast infection”.

Sam 1 on the other hand, has been living in the same clothes for the last three years, so they are baggier against his body giving the impression that he has lost weight over the course of time. While it is revealed that the clones are incinerated at the end of the three year contract, it is open to speculation that these clones may only have a limited life span anyway. Clearly Sam 1 becomes ill, is more susceptible to attack (Sam 2 breaks his nose but complains he hardly touched him), and one of his teeth falls out.

Sam 1’s clothes throughout the course of Moon reflect his deteriorating mental and physical state as they, like his body, become increasingly worn and tattered. Finally Sam ends up wearing nothing more than a bloodied pair of ‘long johns’ thermals (styled like a two-piece union suit) that symbolise how bare and vulnerable he has become.

Even though Sam Bell is a clone, Jane Petrie still managed to infuse individuality through costume, thus allowing the viewer to differentiate between both Sams and helping Sam Rockwell to develop two distinct characters that generate an emotional connection. This proved to be invaluable at during film’s climax when the poignant fate of both clones is ultimately decided.

By Dallas King, author of Championship Celluloid.

*Taken from ‘Sundance EXL: Duncan Jones & Sam Rockwell on Moon’, 23rd January 2009,

© 2012 – 2018, Contributor.


  • PCSD

    The check insignia on Bruce Dern’s Character is a naval signal flag reflecting the first letter of his last name ‘L’, corresponding flags are seen on his fellow crew members. Interestingly the meaning of the ‘L’ flag is: In harbour: “The ship is quarantined.” (maybe referring to his solitude?) …At sea: “You should stop your vessel instantly.”
    Thank you for the article!

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