Outside the Frame

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Film Review: Sunshine

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A burning psychological journey into the depths of space. Not too sunny but certainly bright. 


It is the source of all life on our planet. It was a major object of religion and mythology for ancient societies. But in modern times the sun has been neglected in popular culture. Meteors, distant stars, wormholes, that pesky moon of ours and galaxies far, far away have been the subject of many a film and novel. Yet not much from the entertainment world has been made lately concerning that big ball of fire in our sky. So the film Sunshine was quite a warm welcome. 

Directed by Danny Boyle, best known for Trainspotting and The Beach, this Sci-Fi exploration teams him again with writer Alex Garland, who worked with Boyle on 28 Days Later and who penned the novel The Beach. This is not an action Sci-Fi film but rather more of a slow-burning thriller that delves into some deep psychological territory. More Ridley Scott’s Alien than James Cameron’s Aliens if you will.

Set fifty years in the future, the film explores the idea that our sun is dying and the subsequent human response to this catastrophic event. Faced with the annihilation of all humankind, a team of scientists has been sent towards the sun with the mission of igniting a massive bomb within the star to restore all life. Only this is the second mission of its kind, with the first seemingly having failed seven years earlier for unknown reasons. We enter the film’s narrative just as the ship, Icarus II, loses contact with earth as they become hidden by the sun. They are now on their own.

Things start to go awry for the seven scientists on board Icarus II. Their complete isolation begins to reveal cracks in their psyche and the magnitude of their mission weighs heavily upon their shoulders. In light of a new discovery, they must make a choice that could have disastrous consequences on their mission and ultimately the survival of all humanity. Adding to this, their close vicinity to the sun is having an effect on all of them, as the source of all life starts to have a dominating presence in their minds, and on their sanity.

And it is in this regard that Danny Boyle’s directing shines through. His pacing of the film allows the audience to empathise with the crew of the Icarus II, as we are drawn into the psychological turmoil that their mission would create. The production of the set only adds to the overall uneasiness of the film as the design of the ship instills a sense of claustrophobia that causes a yearning for escape to the familiarity of our home planet. And Boyle denies the audience this yearning, with no scenes occurring back on earth, as we are forced to feel as the crew must feel. Instead the only escape we get from the ship is the occasional view of the sun. And the visual effects here are stunning, as each glimpse of this imposing stellar body on screen almost burns the eyes and heats the body.

A wonderful cast enhances the film by capturing the nuances of a crew of not just scientists, but human beings, who are trying to save the world. They manage to portray the mental and physical exhaustion of such a mission of truly utilitarian intentions, one where the crew’s lives are simply, and willingly, expendable, all for the greater good. Cillian Murphy as Capa, Chris Evans as Mace and Cliff Curtis as Searle are the standouts in this respect due to their subtle portrayal of the flaws and merits of their characters. Chris Evans surprises here, with him famous for much more popcorn roles in movies like Not Another Teen Movie and The Fantastic Four.

Criticisms of Sunshine have come from its portrayal of the science involved in the film. Although the film is realistic in much of the science, as with the structure of the Icarus II, the realities of a dying sun are simply compressed to fit the narrative, and a few simple questions, such as the gravity simulation on the ship, are scientifically unsound. However, the science of the film is simply the vehicle for the narrative. The heart of the film is the psychological, moral and even religious issues that are explored, and Boyle has succeeded rather well in creating a setting based in as much reality as possible in order to focus on these issues.

Alex Garland’s script, with Danny Boyle’s direction and a perfectly pitched characterization by the cast, come together to create a thoughtful as well as entertaining film. The questions of morality, the exploration of the psychological faults and wonders of the human psyche, and the investigation of God and the source of life makes Sunshine an intriguing watch. There will be some who could be let down by a slightly shaky ending, but as with many great films and stories, it is often the journey that is more important than the destination.


Written by Dale Weber

Wednesday, 27 August, 2008 at 3:36 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Another one bamboozled by the “pretty.” Did you not for a second notice how irredeemably STUPID this crew of so-called professionals were…?


    Wednesday, 27 August, 2008 at 4:57 pm

  2. Sure, they make mistakes, but while they are professionals, they are also human. We can’t imagine what seven years under those conditions would do to a person.

    Dale Weber

    Wednesday, 27 August, 2008 at 9:13 pm

  3. […] Film Review: Sunshine […]

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