Sunshine

Tagged: Film

Film (2007). Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a DNA Films production in association with the UK Film Council. Directed by Danny Boyle. Written by Alex Garland. Cast includes Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Cillian Murphy, Hiroyuki Sanada, Mark Strong, Benedict Wong and Michelle Yeoh. 107 minutes. Colour.

Theoretical physicist Robert Capa (Murphy) is part of a last-ditch eight-person rescue effort to save Earth from solar winter by firing a stellar bomb into the Sun. A former mission, the Icarus-I, foundered seven years previously, and the construction and launch of its successor Spaceship the Icarus-II has drained the remainder of Earth's fissile resources: failure to deliver its payload means the End of the World. Earth's enemy is light itself; both too much and too little. Sol's fiery embrace is counterpointed throughout Sunshine by the thematic depredations of Entropy: plans fail, technology falters, relationships between crew members break down.

When communications officer Harvey (Garity) discovers the distress beacon of Icarus I while passing Mercury, Capa recommends to ship's captain Kaneda (Sanada) that they change course: the Nuclear Energy still aboard Icarus I would allow two attempts at reigniting the sun. Mace (Evans), the ship's engineer, opposes this plan; pilot Cassie (Byrne) supports it. An increasingly tense atmosphere prompts ship's navigator Trey (Wong) to misalign the shields that protect the ship from solar wind, obliging Kaneda and Capa to embark on a spacewalk to make repairs. Reflected sunlight causes a fire in the ship's oxygen garden, the ship tilts and Kaneda goes up in flames. The crew must locate new sources of oxygen to reach the sun; any hope of returning to Earth is lost. Ship's psychiatrist Searle (Curtis) is obliged to sedate a guilt-ridden and near-suicidal Trey as the Icarus-II approaches its rendezvous with the apparently-abandoned Icarus-I.

Director Boyle name-checks both Dark Star (1974) – the crew in John Carpenter's film were tasked with destroying worlds with thermonuclear bombs – and Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running (1971) – here, too, a garden is humanity's last hope – and connects these pieces of narrative shorthand to visual cues from Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): dark halos and empty corridors convey the crew's growing unease about the Metaphysics of their mission. Writer Garland prefigures some of the claustrophobia and disquieting Computer authority generated by his scripts for Dredd (2012) and Ex Machina (2015), but 35 painstaking drafts produce a screenplay of two halves: Mythology's human music – violence – soon drowns out Cosmology's natural static.

Pinbacker (Strong), captain of the ill-fated Icarus-I, is hiding aboard its wreckage and finds his way on to the Icarus-II – the cue for a climax reminiscent of Alien (1979) and Event Horizon (1997). "For seven years I spoke to God," he says. "He told me to take us all to heaven." Pinbacker maims Capa, stabs the team's botanist Corazon (Yeoh) and chases Cassie onto the ship bearing the payload. Mace freezes to death in mainframe coolant. Time and space distorts as Capa deploys the bomb, bathing him in the interior of the sun. Back on Earth – our first view of the old country – Capa's sister looks up into a sky briefly illuminated by scientific truth.

Specialists criticized the scientific accuracy of Sunshine – the bomb is not big enough, the Gravity all wrong – but the film's true problem is a failure to couple its Hard SF premise with its Horror in SF climax. Boyle had the actors live together and learn about topics related to their roles before shooting the film, but there are times when they seem only to be going through the motions. Boyle said he would not revisit sf, citing Sunshine's production as "spiritually exhausting". The film won Best Technical Achievement at the British Independent Film Awards of 2007. [MD]

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