To the Moon review – beguiling essay on the satellite’s pervasive pull

Threading together sequences showing the lunar face of subjects from love to madness, this is a gorgeous journey into outer and inner space

It only takes eight minutes of To the Moon before we hear the ripples of Debussy’s Clair de Lune, over a gorgeous vintage montage of embracing lovers. It’s the equivalent of Pomp and Circumstance at the Proms for Tadhg O’Sullivan’s beautifully succinct visual essay on the little guy in the sky; the moon’s beguiling apartness exerting a constant pull on our emotional and imaginative lives, paradoxically making it an inseparable part of us. As the opening quotation, from a Jennifer Elise Foerster poem, puts it: “Moon / Earth fragment / Remember us.”

Appropriately, given the presiding deity here and its remit of the unconscious, O’Sullivan’s film is an estuarial wash of lunar-related images, sound and text – all the better to percolate straight into us. Beginning with limpid shots of the rising and setting moon, its impressively broad set of purpose-shot and archive footage – including films from 25 countries, including ones by Satyajit Ray, FW Murnau and Carl Theodor Dreyer – confirms the moon’s universal allure.

Broken down into sections according to lunar phases, the structure is perfectly clear but still has suggestive leeway. Sometimes the presiding theme is obvious, as with the romance and madness segments in the film’s “waning” first half. Sometimes an abstract state of being seems to hold sway, as in the deathly, senescent preoccupations in the “new moon” chapter. Later, there’s a charming little digression with kids speculating about who might live up there; a family with red noses burnt by the sun, says one.

O’Sullivan makes a sort of political statement in To the Moon’s penultimate “gibbous” section, positioning space exploration as a late step in a broader history of colonialism, at which point “the sovereignty of the moon had dissolved”. But it feels a bit lightweight and summarised, earthbound next to the almost hypnotic tide of more fundamental undercurrents elsewhere – a powerful nocturne hymning the moon’s pull on our bodies and minds. Maybe O’Sullivan should do a film for every planet and start his own cinematic universe.

• To the Moon is released in cinemas on 26 November.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Armstrong review – moon landing doc gets lost in space
This retelling of the Neil Armstrong story has been eclipsed by superior studies of his historic lunar mission

Cath Clarke

10, Jul, 2019 @4:00 PM

Article image
Prisoners of the Moon review – the dark side of the Apollo 11 story
This unsettling documentary focuses on an engineer from Nazi Germany who was a key player in America’s lunar programme

Leslie Felperin

04, Jul, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Apollo 11 review – a front-row seat for the moon landing
Composed entirely of archive footage, this documentary invests the historic mission with a tense immediacy

Wendy Ide

30, Jun, 2019 @7:00 AM

Article image
The last man on the moon on crash-landings, losing his wife and watching an 'Earth-rise'
Propelled by rocket fuel, ego and tunnel vision, Eugene Cernan was the last man to walk on the moon. Now a new film tells his amazing story, from the crash that charred his helmet to the ‘spacewalk from hell’

Sean O'Hagan

31, Mar, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
Apollo 11 review – stunning return to an incredible journey
Featuring previously unseen footage, this electrifying documentary marks 50 years since the first moon landing

Peter Bradshaw

28, Jun, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
Lunar tunes: culture's fascination with the dark side of the moon
From Pink Floyd’s mental hell to the secret lair of space Nazis, artists have striven unceasingly to sketch the side of the moon China’s Chang’e 4 just reached

Tim Jonze

03, Jan, 2019 @4:08 PM

Article image
You Are Here review – 1969 moon landings spark musical midlife adventure
Wendi Peters seizes the role of a suburbanite who is inspired by the lunar broadcast to embark on a spontaneous trip

Chris Wiegand

20, May, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
Luna: A Play About the Moon review – science and stories in cabaret for kids
Roustabout Theatre’s encounters with the moon range from gravity-dancing to skits with astronauts and a werewolf

Chris Wiegand

06, Apr, 2020 @10:24 AM

Article image
Barbara Bosworth’s best photograph: midsummer moon over Boston
‘Light pollution is making it increasingly hard to find a really dark night sky that lets you see the stars. It’s a shame for humanity’

Interview by Edward Siddons

06, Mar, 2019 @3:39 PM

Article image
Cielo review – love letter to the desert’s starry skies
Alison McAlpine’s documentary draws out tales from locals and astronomers to evoke the magic and mystery of Chile’s stargazing hotspot

Cath Clarke

22, Apr, 2021 @10:12 PM