I first saw Sunshine in 2008 after the DVD released in the United States. I really wanted to see it in the theater, but never quite found the opportunity to do it. I mean, it was a no brainer, right? I think the conversation should have gone something like this:
Marketing: From the director of 28 Days Later…
Marketing: …starring the guy from 28 Days Later…
Marketing: …comes Sunshine, a movie about
Me: Yeah, you can stop now. I’m in.
Marketing: You don’t want to know what it’s about?
Me: No, just tell me when I can see it.
However, somewhere between knowing that I was going to see this film and when it stopped showing in local theaters, I didn’t manage to find any other people who also wanted to go see it, and since going to the movies alone isn’t something I normally do (though I am not opposed to it) and so, I didn’t. Not until about a year later.
But that’s neither here nor there, nor on the surface of the sun. The basic plot is this: for some reason, which I don’t recall even after rewatching it, the Sun is going out and the world is going to freeze, but there is a plan – to fire a giant bomb into the Sun and reignite it. I looked up some stuff on wikipedia and saw there was apparently some back story about a Q-ball or something causing the Sun to expend energy faster than it should. Anyway, there was a previous mission which after passing into the dead zone – where they can communicate back to Earth because of the radiation interference of the Sun – it didn’t appear to complete its mission. So now we are on mission two, the final mission, because it took everything the Earth had to make these two bombs. And they fly toward the Sun, and they approach Mercury, and discover the first ship, hanging in orbit around the Sun.
Of course, they decide to investigate…
I think what I love most about this movie is that there is a lot of science in it, but a bunch of it is junk science – science that makes sense in its pieces and parts but not in the manner in which the movie lumps them together. And it’s got that whole race to save humanity element. But another strong element is that I think, at least emotionally and in some ways stylistically, it parallels another movie that I love: The Black Hole.
You got ships sitting on the brink of oblivion and men who have lost their sanity and an ending that leaves open a lot to interpretation because it goes for art rather than solid facts.
When I saw it then and now as I watched it again, I know this is supposed to be a horror film, but it doesn’t scare me at all until the boogeyman shows up. Until that point, the movie is just science, logic and hard but inevitable choices clouded with a little bit of human curiosity and compassion. Seriously, until the sun scarred former captain arrives and starts stomping around the ship killing people in the last act of the film all of the horror is based on preying on the primal fears of uncertainty and helplessness in the face of nature and science we don’t fully understand – which doesn’t scare me.
I also think the movie tried to do something it didn’t succeed at. It’s a brilliant idea, to tell a scary story that normally relies on shadows and darkness but do it in full light. And if this movie had done that, it would have been awesome, but when the captain shows up the first thing he does is kill the computer and turn off the lights. We are plunged back into darkness, the very familiar darkness. It also doesn’t help that Danny Boyle went with an artistic style when showing us the captain and his skewed perspective of his environment. He’s a shaky blur rather than a solid figure, and it robs him of some of the terror he might have caused. If they’d kept the lights on, gave us a clear view of the captain and had him speaking logically and passionately about how the mission had to be stopped while relentlessly hunting the crew – perhaps using things he’d learned in the last seven years trapped on his identical ship.
And yet, despite that, I do still love the movie. It helps, I guess, that the final act is so short. Once it’s over, we spend a beautiful moment with Cillian Murphy, experiencing the strangeness of the uncertain warpings of time and reality that occur in the heart of the Sun, standing before a wall of fire for an eternity even though from the outside he probably vanished in a flash of fire nearly instantaneously.
The sacrifice is made. The Sun reignited. The Earth is saved. Humanity lives on. And Sunshine ends.