KXCI's Flicks w/ The Film Snob
My thoughts were spurred in this direction by watching Sunshine, the latest film from English director Danny Boyle. Sunshine concerns a time in Earth's future when the sun is dying, and a spaceship is sent on a mission to detonate a huge bomb in the sun in order to reignite it. The ship is named Icarus 2—there was an Icarus 1 seven years before that disappeared mysteriously while attempting the identical mission, and now this ship represents Earth's last hope. As the crew approaches Mercury, they receive a distress signal coming from the previous ship. They are faced with a choice of continuing towards the sun, or trying to rendezvous with the old ship, where they might be able to pick up the other bomb, thus doubling their chances of success.
Cillian Murphy plays the bomb expert, and the inwardness of his performance complements the other actors, notably Chris Evans as an aggressive engineer, Michelle Yeoh as the ship's oxygen expert, and Cliff Curtis as the enigmatic ship's doctor. The screenplay is by Alex Garland, who's worked with Boyle before, most notably on his zombie film 28 Days Later. But although there's a lot of plot going on, Boyle takes an unusual approach. His style is elliptical, almost abstract at times, with the recurring imagery of the sun's intense brightness contrasting with the dark hues inside the ship. He goes back and forth between the cramped emotional pressure experienced by the astronauts and the feeling of overwhelming infinity, and the effect is chilling. This is not a wisecracking adventure-type film—the fact that this is a last chance for humanity makes it very serious business, and Boyle cranks up the claustrophobia to high levels.
It's not giving away very much to say that everything starts to go terribly wrong, and as the disasters get worse, the style becomes increasingly jagged, as if the camera eye itself is spooked by what it shows, or almost shows. The menace that threatens the crew has something to do with the belief that God meant for the world to end, and so it's up to us to help him—an interesting idea with echoes of today's fundamentalists. But Doyle isn't interested in pressing a point home, so this aspect is actually a bit confusing, which is too bad. As a visual experience, though, the picture is simply dazzling, and there's a sort of obsessive awareness of the possibility of a dying world that makes the film echo in your mind. In the end, Sunshine becomes something that's never really been tried before—a science fiction film about grief.