The film was written for Sam Rockwell, who Duncan Jones wanted to cast in a different film, but Jones and Rockwell could never come to an agreement on which part he should play. Because he wanted to work with Rockwell so much, he created this film for him.
As part of the presentation of the movie at NASA, the director was asked about the sturdy, bunker-like design for the base. The director explained that he thought that astronauts would build the base using material dug out of the moon itself, instead of bringing a habitat with them and placing it on the surface. As it happened, one of the other audience members was working on "mooncrete", which as she explained to the director is a concrete-like material that could be made out of rocky "regolith" on the lunar surface.
Shot during a writer's strike, which had caused most other productions at Shepperton studios to shut down. Director Duncan Jones says he got a number of top-class effects people on the crew because of the lull.
According to director Duncan Jones, the film was shown to some NASA scientists who questioned why harvesting of He3 would not take place on the near side of the moon, where He3 is in more abundance. The explanation given was that the choice was made to harvest the far side so as not to affect wildlife.
The four harvesters are nicknamed Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - corresponding with the first four books of the New Testament in the Bible. During the post-screening Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival, screenwriter Nathan Parker said that he just needed four names; no particular symbolism was intended.
The film makes several references to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). GERTY looks and sounds similar to HAL 9000. They also have a similar dot: HAL's is red and GERTY's is blue. This film choreographs scenes in space to classical music, just as Stanley Kubrick did.
The name of the Lunar station, and written on one of the mineral tubes that Sam unloads from the mining machine has the word Sarang written in English and Korean. Sarang is Korean for "love". Sarang also means peacock in Sanskrit language, and means nest in the Malay language as well.
The five dots arranged in a quincunx (a single dot surrounded by four other dots), a motif that occurs at various points throughout the movie, in the criminal underworld represents prison, the central dot being the person while the other four represent the prison walls.
In the fight, Sam says the words: "I'm a lover, not a fighter", a reference to Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney's song "The Girl Is Mine", which was borrowed off the Skeeter Davis song, "I'm A Lover (Not a Fighter)" from 1969
The "rescue mission" Sam is expecting is named Eliza. ELIZA was a 1960's computer program created by M.I.T. which mimicked chatting with a human operator in the manner of a therapist or psychologist. This is an obscure reference but obviously one pointed toward GERTY in the film. Its banal responses to Sam's statements and questions are very much in the manner which ELIZA used to provide.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The last word that the announcer says on the video shown before the return to Earth capsule is launched is "Annyeonghikyeseyo," which is Korean for "good-bye," but only if the speaker is leaving, and the listener is remaining put. It could therefore be more accurately construed as "you're not going anywhere." Seeing as Sam is a clone and the so-called "pod" is in reality an incineration chamber, the use of "annyeonghiKYEseyo" (as opposed to "annyeonghiKAseyo") is probably a deliberate in-joke. The director claimed to have been dating a Korean at the time he either wrote or shot this film, so the nuance is plausible.
Just before Sam leaves for Earth, he is carrying a cylindrical object under his left arm. In the director's commentary, Duncan Jones says that it is a storage canister containing $15 million worth of Helium 3, and that selling it would allow Sam to live well on Earth over his 3-year lifespan. This plot point didn't make the final cut.
According to Duncan Jones, the original Sam allowed the company to have his genetic material taken, certain memories to be downloaded and all of his transmission with his wife to be used. The company gave him a heap of money so after his 3 years of actually doing the job on the Moon, he went back to Earth, his family was taken care of and the guys on the Moon took care of the actual job.
Eve's age of 15 and the standard contract of three years, indicating that the Sam that began the film was clone #5 and the new Sam, the one who eventually escapes to Earth is clone #6. There are also 6 chambers in the "secret room" containing the clones of Sam which are lit red, denoting that they are now empty. It is confirmed in the news report audio that is played over the final few seconds of the film when a reporter is heard saying, "Clone 6, the clone of Sam Bell, has been giving evidence..."
Within the first 10 minutes of the film, Sam receives a transmission from his wife. During the transmission, Sam's daughter is told what to say by his wife. This seems innocent until a few moments later when a figure wearing a suit appears on the right side of the television screen (though only slightly visible) and remains there until the transmission is complete. This is alluding to the fact that the transmissions were scripted and prerecorded to uphold the lie that the Sam clone is living on the moon base. The figure to the side was either overseeing the recording, or possibly the "real" Sam.
The symptoms Sam is showing, and the time of their onset, indicate he's suffering from acute radiation poisoning: starting with headaches, moving on to bleeding, paler skin, dizziness and fevers. This would suggest that exposing the clones to a large dose of radiation is how the company is making them ill.
The text on Sam's t-shirt at the opening of the movie reads "Wake me when it's quitting time." A similar t-shirt can later be seen inside a "dormant" clone's unit in the secret chamber. This can be a reference to Lunar Industries' policy of waking a new clone when the three-year contract ("quitting time") of a clone ends.
The "Harvester NAV" screen into which Sam changes the track of the harvesters at the end of the film has a window with the following 2-line program: 20 GOTO 10; 10 GOTO 20. This is an infinite loop in BASIC.
Concept Designer/VFX Supervisor Gavin Rothery did all the EVA stunt work in the film. Due to being the same height and build as Sam Rockwell the space suits fitted perfectly. He is also the "Rescue" team member entering the cab of the crashed Rover at the end of the film. The weapon used is apparently Rothery's own customized paint-ball gun.
The message containing the Eliza rescue crew manifest reads: "Lunar Industries rescue crews have your best intentions at heart. Please try not to panic until they arrive. Remain on-station and make sure you obey their instructions no matter how strange they may seem. After all, they're here to help! Thank you for helping us to help you."
The "Rescue Team" are crew members who made the film. They feature Concept Designer/VFX Supervisor Gavin Rothery as the captain on screen left, First Assist Director Mick Ward and Director of Photography Gary Shaw (aka the Reverend Cheesy Loaf, who happens to be a fully ordained priest).
At the 25 minutes mark of the movie "Mute", there is a short Spiegel TV breaking news with a caption: "The 156 face their maker - Lunar Industries ex-employee questioned by panel in presence of scores of the clones". Sam Rockwell is seen playing Sam Bell and at least 28 clones.
When the rescue crew is shown on the screen during the transmission from Earth, the last name of one of the crew is Rothery. This is the last name of the film's visual effects supervisor, Gavin Rothery.
At about an 1 hour and 2 minutes into the movie Sam is learning more specifics to the clone situation as he is listening to the technician on the TV. The technician ends with saying, "Annyeonghi gyeseyo". This is "goodbye" in Korean. This would fit as it seems there's a joint moon operation between Korea and USA as indicated by the name of the lunar station, which is Sarang. Sarang in Korean means "love".