In 2009 Simon Ennis put his name on the map of English language Canadian filmmakers actually worth following with the twisted, hilarious and tragically under seen You Might As Well Live. I can’t imagine anyone would have predicted something like Lunarcy! to be his follow up. There’s still a love of eccentric characters and symmetrical portrait photography that links both films, but his new film is the director’s first documentary and a great one. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for this particular brand of doc. It’s one of those adoring odes to eccentric obsessives that Errol Morris created with the likes of Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida and has since grown into a thriving subgenre (you could argue that even the Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy flicks sprung from Morris’ mold). The formula’s fairly simple: find a group of like minded goofballs linked by a certain shared interest or behavior and let the audience laugh and fall in love with them. Actually making it work is another question entirely, and that’s where Ennis’ skill comes in. He’s proven himself to be just as capable of handling this form as his fiction work, and now hopefully his sophomore effort won’t be criminally underrated as his debut.
Ennis’ subject for the doc is people who are obsessed with the moon. I don’t just mean people who have a moon poster on their wall or wear Apollo 11 t-shirts from time-to-time. These moon-lovers go a bit farther than that. At the heart of the movie is Chris Carson the founder of the Luna Project. That’s a formal way of saying that Carson plans to be the first person to leave earth permanently and spend the rest of his days on the moon. It sounds silly and too an extent it is, but Carson means it and is convinced it could happen within 2 years with proper funding. He travels the country putting on lectures and attending space conferences to collect donations and followers. As the film goes on, we also learn that Carson has a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome, lives with his parents, and has a rather sad past. Yet, somehow that only makes you love him more. As much as this is a film about the moon, it’s a film (like Morris’ Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control) about glorious obsession with a hobby or interest that consumes your life and provides everything. There’s something rather touching about those who have it. Whatever doors it may close, it also provides the purpose and happiness everyone strives for and Carson has that in spades. As hilarious as he may look and sound at times, you’ve got to admire him on a certain level.
Carson might be the heart of the movie, but he’s hardly Ennis only subject. The many strange and wonderful faces to grace us include Dennis Hope, a man who claimed ownership of the moon through the United Nations via a weird legal loophole in the late 60s. Whether or not he actually can claim ownership is reasonable question, but the man has made millions selling off moon property at $19.99 a pop (including space taxes), with a long list of clients including three ex-presidents. Then there’s Alan Bean, the one actual Apollo astronaut (he regrets not taking a football to the moon with him) who appears in the film who now dedicates his life to making paintings of the moon using his actual moon tools and boots to create textures. Many others appear with equally eclectic stories, including a man who was tasked with tracking down the sale of bootleg moonrocks in the 60s (apparently a large racket at the time) and a Canadian who faked his age to go to the final space launch as a child and got one of those bootlegable rocks to prove it.
Throughout it all, Ennis retains a light and funny tone and shoots a film in a highly stylized manner that feels somewhere between an Errol Morris doc, a Hal Ashby comedy and 2001: A Space Odyssey. He also manages to find that perfect sweet spot between finding immense humor in his interview subjects and their obsessions without ever crossing over into snidely mocking them. Ennis clearly loves each and everyone of these goofballs and by the end you will too. The lunar connection that pulls them all together is interesting and filled good info tidbits, but ultimately this is a documentary about its characters and their obsession. I don’t simply call Chris Carson the heart of the film because he gets the most screen time, but also because how he’s depicted and what he represents really defines what Ennis wants to achieve with the project as a whole. Lunarcy! is a hilarious, sweet, and oddly touching depiction of the joys and fulfillment of obsession and what better target for that than the big glowing ball of cheese in the night sky that’s inspired this level of devotion since humans were still swinging clubs in caves (it’s a living). Now, when can we start up a kickstarter to get Carson a ticket on one of Richard Branson’s first commercial space trips? After even a single screening of Lunarcy!, you’ll realize that no one deserves it more than him.