Sunshine (2007) / Sci Fi-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violent content and language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuka Sanada, Mark Strong, Benedict Wong, Brian Cox
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Review published April 11, 2007
In the near future, the sun is dying, causing Earth's temperature to dip below tolerable levels. Eventually, all human life, as well as most other forms, will cease. Earth has sent a spaceship, Icarus (in Greek mythology, not exactly a name that bodes well for solar travel), carrying a powerful nuclear bomb that, if detonated inside the dying sun, will bring it back to life. After years with no results or a return home, the mission has been officially considered a failure, and another ship, Icarus II, is launched. As the remainder of Earth's resources to build the bomb has been exhausted, Icarus II's payload is humanity's final hope for survival.
Things proceed mostly according to plan, although as Icarus II approaches to close proximity to the sun, mishaps begin to occur, as well as tensions aboard the ship, the biggest among them caused by a distress signal coming from what appears to be the original Icarus. The crew have to decide between reaching their mission objectives and the benefit of two payloads with a rescue mission attempt. However, they aren't sure what they'll find on the Icarus, and whether the forces that led to the ship's demise will recreate themselves.
Director Danny Boyle (A Life Less Ordinary, Shallow Grave) and screenwriter Alex Garland team up for the second time (or third, if you consider that Boyle's The Beach is based on Garland's book), coming after the successful futuristic zombie flick, 28 Days Later. As with their previous collaboration, Sunshine is another apocalyptic vision of Earth's near future, with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance of a select few.
Sunshine is more of a purist sci-fi film than has come out in recent years, perhaps just a shade less esoteric than another notable entry, Soderbergh's remake of Solaris, less philosophical than Aronofsky's The Fountain, less menacing than Alien, less action-oriented than Armageddon or The Core, and definitely far less jocular than Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, although it shares many story elements and themes from all of them. You can also add 2001: A Space Odyssey to the list of influences, with the crew squabbles with the onboard AI, as well as the more surreal elements that come into play late in the film.
While there isn't a great deal of newness to the material, for the most part, Sunshine proceeds forward at an efficient clip, with several developments to keep our interest and set us up for the fractures that will develop later among the crew and their loyalties. Only in the final half hour is something introduced that doesn't feel quite right, as a deadly game of cat-and-mouse develops among the crew after their rendezvous with Icarus. I won't spoil this development, as the surprise is the best thing about it, but I will say that, from my point of view, this area of the film did detract from the overall enjoyment of the piece, as the shift in tone from tense space mission to dark terror isn't transitioned well. I won't go so far as to say it's without merit, as it does pose interesting questions, but it seemed like it belonged in a much different movie than the one that had been developing for the first hour and 20 minutes.
Good actors grace Sunshine well, with a multi-ethnic cast (not all races are represented in a simplistic microcosm as some others might, mostly Asian and Caucasian), with Murphy (Breakfast on Pluto, Red Eye), Byrne (The Dead Girl, Marie Antoinette) and Evans (TMNT, Fantastic Four) getting most of the screen time. The bleakness and desolation of space is effectively captured by Boyle, with a sparse and subdued electronic score, provided by Underworld, who previously scored for Boyle on Trainspotting, working with 28 Days Later's John Murphy. The special effects are stellar, and not overused. There is a theme running along of beauty even among the deadliest of things, as the crew becomes in awe of the Sun's dazzling and awe-inspiring display.
The scientific aspects of the film are probably not going to impress many who have a basic notion of science, especially in astrophysics, or just in common sense as far as how our technological advancements (especially in space travel) will probably progress in the next 50 years or so, but to judge it on that level will probably ruin the rumination on the film's larger questions regarding humanity and its right to existence.
If humanity is slated to nonexistence, should we really trifle with God's will? On the other hand, should religious zealots be allowed to act as an agent for God and send the rest of humanity to certain doom? Are we sealing our own destruction by following the paths of those who claim to be enlightened by divine authority, ignoring science altogether, because it interferes with someone's personal beliefs? Heady questions that are touched upon in this allegory of our era's heated struggle between religion vs. science that so dominates many of our medical and scientific research that could potentially save humanity (it's not a coincidence that the Icarus expeditions have scientists, environmentalists and psychologists), if not for the fact that some of their methods are deemed morally reprehensible by people with devout beliefs.
Sunshine is a good, sometimes very good film for most of the journey, though the film, much like the journey of the Icarus II itself, gets detoured into a nearly-fatal trajectory toward its ultimate destination. However, given the main themes of the film that get presented during the weak final third, I'm willing to give Boyle and Garland a bit of slack in their figurative exploration of the madness of religious zealotry, and how the human race may be headed down the path of certain destruction when fundamentalist extremists (regardless of faith) decide for themselves, and for the rest of us, just what their god's intentions are. If the argument is that we shouldn't counter divine will by trying to save ourselves, then, turning the table on the same argument, those claiming to be agents of religion shouldn't try to stop scientists from trying, because whether they succeed or fail is inconsequential to this almighty will.
"Cursed is the one who trusts in man" (so says the Bible) vs. "God helps those who help themselves" (a famous non-Biblical adage): this debate will likely rage on until man's ultimate extinction.
©2007 Vince Leo