Sunshine

50 years into the future, the sun is a dying star, and Earth will die along with it. We send a ship of astronauts to bomb the sun back into shining but the team goes awol somewhere out in the million miles of space. So we send another one, but this IS IT. Mankind’s last hope. We’ve officially mined all of Earth’s resources for this motherload. No pressure!

sunshine02The new team includes Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. They’re clearly already under stress when we meet them several years into their trip to the sun, but shit’s about to get a whole lot messier. Just as they’re approaching the most dangerous part of the mission, they receive a signal. It’s a ping from the lost ship. It’s been 7 years since anyone’s heard from them…they can’t still be alive, can they?

The crew debates whether they should divert their mission to find out. But this is not a democracy, the captain reminds them. They’re scientists, and he gives the decision to the person most qualified to make it, the ship’s physicist, played by Cillian Murphy. No matter what he decides, he’s fucked. No matter what he decides, his crew will hold him responsible for the lives and the mission he’s risked. Classic lose-lose scenario. Fun!

Okay, fun is the wrong word. Writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle are reteamed after Sunshine_spacesuitbring us The Beach and 28 Days Later. Danny Boyle has more recently done Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours, and Steve Jobs. Alex Garland wrote Ex Machina. These boys don’t do fun. They do: harrowing, intense, suspenseful. Sun-psychosis. The closer the ship gets to its goal, the more things fall apart. Fall apart literally and psychologically. And philosophically.

It starts out as an interesting, cerebral sci-fi adventure, on the lower end of the action scale, but not without daring stunts. But in Sunshine, getting closer to the sun is like getting closer to god. And reality unravels a bit like we’ve seen in Interstellar. Sunshine is ambitious. Boyle and Garland are asking us to consider some hot and heavy questions. Big Questions. Boyle manages to put story and character ahead of special effects, making this a very worthy, brainy, thoughtful entry into the sci-fi genre (and likely his last – he found this film to be extremely draining). The film makers actually want to make us understand what it’s like to get so close to our most glorious star. The increasingly fractured and subliminal scenes are almost reminiscent of some of the more hallucinogenic stuff from Boyle’s Trainspotting days, and the glimpses from inside sunshine-murphy-sunthe helmets of the striking gold space suits clutch at your throat. I had some very real autonomic responses to this film and I swear I could feel the heat. Boyle wisely uses actors who can take the heat and radiate some of their own. He even more wisely stays away from the love triangle clichΓ© and sticks to things that feel very real for a set of humans staring into the sun and seeing their own deaths. There’s fear and panic and bravery and resolve.

If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases, but Sunshine includes an appropriately global response, which helps to underline the fact that in space, with human extinction on the line, there is no race or culture. It’s about those decisions to make sacrifices, to act for the greater good, to reach beyond which you think yourself capable. Sunshine stumbles in its final act – things get so weighty it seems to buckle a bit, but this remains a movie that is criminally underrated. Many thanks to my fellow film bloggers who pointed me toward this, and I hope maybe I’ve done the same for some of you.

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22 thoughts on “Sunshine

  1. Wendell

    Sigh. Guess I have to be THAT guy. I actually think this movie is criminally overrated. Actually, I was really enjoying Sunshine for quite a bit until that lamer-than-lame monster-flick broke out in the final act. What the hell was that? I should have known it was coming with all the nods to Alien sprinkled throughout the first two acts. Still, when it just flat out turned into Alien…mixed with the ending of Apocalypse Now…I became extremely annoyed. Glad you loved it. I just can’t get over how terrible that last act turned out.

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  2. Cassandra

    I loved this movie when I saw it (maybe a decade ago?) and was completely unaware of Cilian Murphy at the time (who I now love for his work in Peaky Blinders). I may need to go back and re-watch it.

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  3. Tom

    With every passing amazing review of this, I feel more and more like an idiot for not having seen this yet. I really can’t wait for my first time. I’m sure everyone remembers their first time with Sunshine.

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  4. J.

    One of my favourites, this one. Definite Alien nods and despite the turn in the final act, I thought it all worked really well. The tension, pacing, atmosphere (heat) … ach, it’s just great. Glad you caught it and enjoyed!

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  5. emmakwall

    This is one of my favourite movies, I love the intensity of it, the music, the imagery, the creepiness in places. It IS a strange film and it doesn’t surprise me that a lot of people don’t enjoy the third act or rate it highly but it still brings me out in goosebumps when I watch it now.

    Great review as ever Jay πŸ™‚ I know what you mean about feeling the heat!

    “tell me……what do you see…”

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  6. Mr. Bobinsky

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    “If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases.”

    A wonderful review of this hugely underrated movie.

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