Directed by Danny Boyle
There have been many movies where a crack international science team bands together to save the planet from impending destruction. Some enter the room, guns blazing, hoping to overwhelm your senses with spectacle while pulling at your heart strings with the dueling, quivering lips of Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck. Others rely too heavily on modern computerized effects, depicting a giant drill hurtling through the planet or meteors pelting tourist attractions ... all flash and no substance. Why do disasters always target iconic landmarks by the way?! Now we get Danny Boyle’s new epic Sunshine. This is the part where I say ... and now for something completely different.
Sunshine is a dark tale set in the not-so-distant, non-descript future. It seems our sun is dying and the planet is doomed to become a giant ball of ice unless the greatest minds the Earth can muster can do something about it. The solution is simple: Build an explosive device the size of Manhattan Island, strap a rocket to it and set it off in the heart of the sun. Easy peasy! Of course there are a few obstacles in the way, one of which being that the sun is 92,955,820.5 miles away so you need the resources to make the trip there and back, while keeping the crew alive to deliver the payload. Also, there’s the nagging fact that the last ship sent out was never heard from again, and seeing as how you can still make an igloo in Africa, it seems they didn’t quite make it.
Deep space missions require a level head to begin with. Picture yourself living in a nice sized house with a number of relative strangers, one bag full of your belongings and a finite amount of energy you can utilize daily. After about two months, I’d probably have already gotten on someone’s nerves and threatened to smother three others in their sleep. Sunshine echoes this human dilemma, showing equal parts claustrophobia and awe for what this crew is trying to accomplish. Danny Boyle emphasizes the emptiness of space like a tiny rowboat in a still ocean -- no sound, no wind, just an uneasy stillness. You're totally exposed with only your Earthly inventions to keep you and your vessel in one piece. At any moment, things can shift out of your favor. This impending doom shadows the film in its dark embrace, reminding you that not only is this crew living on borrowed time, but each member is expendable when weighed against the survival of the human race.
Cillian Murphy trades in his official 28 Days Later hospital gown for a jumpsuit and plays Capa, the scientist who built the bomb, making him the most important man on the ship. Murphy plays this role with a sort of breathlessness, as if to show he’s fully aware of his enormous responsibilities and is doing his best to handle it, like a child just told his parents will die unless he finds a way to move an entire collapsed house off of them. You either sit there crying, wasting what little time you have, or you suck it up and do the job. Capa is ready to die so his world will live on. Mind you, he doesn’t want to die. Cliff Curtis plays Searle, the ship’s physician, whose relationship with the sun seems to have surpassed that of someone enjoying a warm summer’s day, to say the least. As Searle sits on the observation deck, a look of overwhelming wonder crosses his face. It’s as if he’s just been allowed to stare in the face of God. Having a character that is responsible for the mental and physical well being of the crew becoming slightly unhinged himself lends a level of trepidation to all events in the film. When is this guy going to snap and drive the ship straight into the heart of the sun??!! The thought is always there and Curtis sells it like there’s no tomorrow. Chris Evans portrays Ace, the gung-ho American hellbent on completing the mission at all costs. In a very human story, it’s easy to forget that all crew members are just tools to get the job done, and should one break, there is no time to mourn. Ace knows what is at stake here and is your constant reminder that even he is not worth more than the human race. Most people will discount Evans as the cocky Johnny Storm from Fantastic Four, but after watching Sunshine, things will change. Evans displays the stern resolve of a life-long soldier while showing moments of vulnerability worthy of note. Let’s hope other studios give him a chance to really act after this.
The crew of the Icarus 2, aptly named after the man why tried to fly to the sun, come across as a group with amazing resolve. This is not quite a family in a touchy-feely way, but each member is respected and given care equally. From this, Sunshine plays much like certain beats in the original Alien. These are people with a job to do, doing the best they can ... only the Icarus crew has far more at stake. The acting is of such a high caliber, from every cast member, that you become fully immersed in their plight. Many of the people around me gasped often and shifted quickly in their seats, so it’s safe to say, Sunshine will leave you breathless!
At our particular screening of this film, Danny Boyle conducted a Q&A after. When we asked how he integrates non-obvious moments of terror into a strong story, he replied "I honestly have no idea! I’m not setting out to make something scary from the start; I’m just following a thought, and it turns out that way." I mention this because of Sunshine’s psychotic ending! You’ve just watched an amazing film full of stunning space scenes, incredible acting and a score that pulls it all together with perfection. Some crew members have died along the way, but as we’ve seen in the film’s trailer, there is someone else on board the ship. The reveal of this plot point is something you’ll never expect and is every bit the stuff of horror you’d want from a full-blown genre film! In one instant Boyle increases the dread level to 20 on a scale of 10, presenting scenes you’ll think were written by Clive Barker himself. The movie’s climax ALONE makes this a must see for anyone reading this.
Sunshine is a deep, brooding film, not without its lighter notes here and there. People have an amazing capacity to smile in the face of overpowering adversity, and Boyle shows this. Space films are often larger than life, and though we are along for the ride and are meant to feel compassion for the members of the crew, we are often kept at a distance so that the heroes can remain somewhat better than us -- something to aspire to in a sense. Sunshine offers reality, as it were. The crew of the Icarus 2 are fully formed individuals who laugh, cry and at times are completely unpredictable. This element makes the film all the more tangible. You will be glued to your seat. Sunshine is the movie this summer’s blockbusters wish they could be. Do whatever you can to find a theater playing this film! If there was ever a movie you should fight to see on the big screen, this is it.
5 out of 5
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