The term lunacy is derived from the Latin word for the moon, because erratic behaviour was once believed to be associated with lunar phases. So the punning title of the documentary Lunarcy! is something of a redundancy: The moon and madness are already well entwined.
For this sometimes cheeky doc, Canadian director Simon Ennis has uncovered a handful of lunar dreamers, all of them, as it happens, American men. Alan Bean is a former astronaut turned painter, rendering images of NASA’s greatest moments in acrylics and sprinkling them with moon dust extracted from his old spacesuit. Dennis Hope is a ventriloquist turned real estate agent selling property on the moon because the United Nations has not bothered to contest his ownership claim. Peter Kokh edits a newsletter about all things lunar and ponders how to make life on the moon physically cozy and culturally stimulating. Kokh understands he is too old to ever get there, but young Christopher Carson, the central figure in this doc, is an earnest advocate for immediate colonization, handing out pamphlets and making speeches at science fiction conferences and on street corners.
Bean and Kokh are intelligent enthusiasts who burble pleasantly. Hope is the kind of self-justifying huckster who will hand his interviewer the rope with which to hang him; his business selling acreage on the moon, complete with certificates of ownership, would be really offensive if not for the fact that he charges only $20 a parcel. Carson, meanwhile, is a lonely twentysomething with a harmless monomania: He is urging others to put lunar colonization on the political agenda, and he’s volunteering to take a one-way ticket up there as soon as governments pony up the billions needed to settle the moon. He’s an eccentric of the 19th-century variety.
But psychological fashion has, of course, moved on: Ennis interviews Carson’s parents, whose protective tone is finally explained when it is revealed that Carson, who is exceedingly well-spoken and knowledgeable, was unable to complete an engineering degree due to an unspecified illness and suffers from Asperger syndrome. In other sections this doc gets all sassy, unnecessarily flashing on-screen funny things that interviewees have just said, but Ennis treats Carson’s story with respect and delicacy. Still, the inclusion of his personal history seems off topic and unfair: Can we not let our loons just be loony?
It also points to Ennis’s larger inability to place the romantic obsession with the moon into much cultural context – to take all of society to the shrink, not just Carson. There is only one interview with an outside observer, Matthew Goodman, the author of a book about how the 19th-century New York Sun perpetrated (perhaps unwittingly) a hoax on its readers when it published what were intended as satirical descriptions of the horned goats and four-foot-tall man-bats living on the moon. Lunarcy! needs to spend more time explaining the man in the moon and less time stalking his sad followers on Earth.