The story – a mission to re-ignite a dying Sun with a ‘stellar bomb’ – draws many of its central themes, of spirituality, nature and exploration, from science-fiction stalwarts including 2001, Solaris, Contact, Mission To Mars and Silent Running. Yet, tonally, Sunshine is cast from the same mould as claustrophobic monster movies such as Alien, establishing a realistic, monotonous atmosphere, but compromising a potentially great science-fiction movie with a weak monster-movie driven conclusion of its own.
Where Kubrick, Soderbergh/Tarkovsky and Zemeckis leave the viewer pondering questions of mortality, sentience and religion, Boyle opts for a convenient Hollywood-friendly deus ex machina to propel the plot forward and provide a vehicle for its conclusion.
Various disasters befall the crew of the Icarus II as it nears the Sun and we begin to speculate on the potential causes; all-too-human weaknesses; a malevolent HAL-like intelligence; the spiritual effect of the proximity of the Sun, source of all life. In the end, Boyle and Garland opt for a barely plausible protagonist, allowing other promising plot-lines to fade. Searle’s growing philosophical fascination with the Sun, coupled with hints of a solar sentience may have made for a more satisfying story about mortality and spirituality, but may have moved Sunshine outside the mainstream…a space Boyle understandably finds desirable for his movies. Like Blade Runner, Sunshine may have needed to shed commercial potential for artistic coherence.
Despite this, Sunshine is a film worth seeing; from the awe-inspiring depiction of the scale, beauty and ferocity of the Sun; a mesmerising, minimalist soundtrack by Underworld; a superb cast; VR therapy, two hearth-thumping set-pieces; blinged-out hip-hop spacesuits; an overclocked computer that runs hotter than an 8-core Mac Pro and to the touching moments when the crew first nears Mercury.
Sunshine is a film that’s stayed in my thoughts in the two weeks since I saw it, forcing me to consider why I enjoyed it when I could openly see its flaws. Perhaps the potential of greatness and understanding the promising paths not taken as well as the constraints an artist has to work in, are enough to appreciate a work 🙂