The opening shot of Tadgh O’Sullivan’s feature-length cinematic odyssey To the Moon is not exactly surprising – it’s a shot of the moon. What follows, however, is surprising, not least from the story O’Sullivan crafts from a plethora of sources, which create one incredibly touching and human testament to the celestial body that occupies our night sky.
Made almost entirely of archival footage overlapped with literary extracts, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what To The Moon is. A documentary? An essay? A reflection? A little bit of all of them, and then, none at all. A ‘feature-length montage’ works best, and watching O’Sullivan’s work, one can’t help but be reminded of the Russian formalists and admire how far the artform of film, and moreso, the montage, has come.
It would have been easy for O’Sullivan to slap ‘Clair de Lune’ on the background and piece together some clips of the moon and call it a day, but instead he uses all 78 minutes of his runtime to rigorously examine and parse out the complex and age-old relationship we have with the moon. Though it does not necessarily have a ‘plot’ as we know it, it does have a kind of thematic thread which is sewn throughout the film: from childhood to adulthood, birth to death, night to day. What results is a melodic, almost rhythmic pace that feels reminiscent of the bedtime stories we were read as a child – the familiar beats and predictability of it all, yet still enjoyable, no matter how many times we hear it. That’s another thing – none of this feels exactly new. Though O’Sullivan’s cinematic voice is definitely unique, one of the most amazing revelations is how timeless both our relationship to the moon and the stories we tell ourselves are. It’s incredible to reach back through the annals of history and see the same preoccupations; friends, family, love, betrayal. Above it all is that little white orb that has been home in our skies since time immemorial, and below, our eyes remain fixed upwards throughout millenia to our permanent beacon in the dark.
Watching O’Sullivan’s film, it’s easy to see how this night sky we all share has inspired generations, from Galileo to Shakespeare, to Georges Méliès and Kubrick. And perhaps most inspiring of all is how genuinely human and international To the Moon is. Oftentimes projects such as O’Sullivan’s tend to appeal to Western audiences, but what was truly enjoyable was seeing vintage archival footage from around the globe, the likes of which I certainly had never seen before.
Admittedly, O’Sullivan’s ode to all things lunar may not be for everyone. It’s unusually slow and dreamlike pace may not suit mainstream audiences and, regrettably, this is not a film that translates well to the screen of a laptop. Many times during my watch I found myself thinking about how amazing a certain shot would be on the cinema screen, or how much more enrapturing the soundtrack might sound from surround-sound speakers. Unfortunately, COVID has robbed us of this experience, but I have faith that O’Sullivan’s visual essay will have its big-screen debut in cinemas. When it does, I’ll be first in line.