Sunday, April 20, 2008

Meeg at the Movies: You Stole the Sun from my Heart

I watched Sunshine on DVD a few months back. It was released in 2007 and directed by Danny Boyle who also filmed Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, and 28 Days Later.

This is a sci-fi film set 50 years in the future. The Sun is growing dimmer thus threatening life on Earth and pool parties everywhere; so mankind sends a spaceship called the Icarus II on a mission to drop a nuclear missile into the dying star in hopes of reigniting it and -- if there's time -- to bring the crew back safely. The Icarus II is manned by an international team of astronauts and scientists: Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is the biologist responsible for the garden that supplies them with oxygen; the lithe, androgynous Cillian Murphy (who was in 28 Days Later) is the physicist who designed the ship's nuclear device; and American, action movie guy Chris Evans is... kind of a douche. Oh, and Hiroyuki Sanada who starred in Ringu plays Captain Kaneda, whose name is a clear shout out to Akira.

Everything is going according to plan until they pick up a distress transmission which seems to be coming from the Icarus I -- the vessel's predecessor that was sent out on the same mission several years ago never to be heard from again. The crew decides to divert from their preplanned course: some are curious to know the previous ship's fate, and some think they must rescue the survivors in the unlikely event anyone's still alive, but they ultimately decide to follow the signal because if they can retrieve the Icarus I's nuclear payload they'll increase their chances of success by 50%. After they go off autopilot, human error enters the picture and things start going very wrong very fast.

A firm basis in hard science (physicist Brian Cox from Manchester University acted as the movie's technical advisor) makes the film very interesting and very realistic, and at times the cinematography is poetic. But then about 30 minutes from the end, when the "monster" is revealed, Sunshine started to lose me. When I was reading reviews of the movie, back when it was first released in theaters, I saw that many critics had the same reaction that I did. I feel as though the filmmakers probably thought they were ratcheting up the tension for a dramatic conclusion (and it was kind of a rollercoaster ride) and also that they were raising interesting metaphysical/theological questions in the finale, but compared to everything that came before it the ending seemed to me more run of the mill and less realistic.

Yet despite this somewhat disappointing conclusion, I would say Sunshine is certainly worth seeing not only for the action and the science but also for the philosophical questions it raises. The crew's psychiatrist gets addicted to gazing out the ship's window and staring into the Sun despite the obvious dangers (you can see blisters on his face). You wonder what he sees: beauty? power? the source of life? or maybe he's just getting high off the UV rays.

Also, as the team's mission falls deeper into jeopardy, I put myself in the mindset of the characters. It was of the utmost importance that the Icarus II somehow complete its mission and drop that atom bomb into the Sun, and compared to that necessity whether or not I myself survived was really beside the point. It's interesting to think about being in that rare (or should I say hypothetical) situation where the lives of a large amount of people (in the case explored in Sunshine the lives of the entire human race) depend on you fulfilling some goal, and thus a logical person would risk or even sacrifice his life to do what has to be done.

Image of Cliff Curtis in the observation deck of the Icarus II in the movie Sunshine (Fox Searchlight Pictures)


Josie said...

i just saw this movie a little bit ago. i also didnt get the whole 'monster' character at the end other than to make sure that the mission fails due to something beyond human error. the last scenes where they are running away from him i also thought curious bc what is the point? overall, i really enjoyed this film.

nola32 said...

um, am i wrong in thinking that that's totally NOT the way that the sun will die? don't stars become bigger and bigger until they become some sort of massive star and then they implode or explode or something like that? really, i think that's what happens... they expand and expand until they destroy themselves. they say that billions of years from now the sun will be so big that it will, in fact, engulf the earth in its hot molten lavaness.
i could have just had a dream about that though and be totally wrong. who knows?

Meeg said...

No, you're right. Also the Sun's death is a lot further away than 50 years. I think they get around this but saying that a theoretical particle called a "Q ball" is messing with the Sun.