Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007)


As you are no doubt aware, from reading the ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ review, that I am a huge Danny Boyle fan and ‘Sunshine’ I have watched many times. I pretty much love everything about it and, for one, as soon as I get a HD-TV (a way off yet … god damn overdraft), I feel that ‘Sunshine’ will be one of the first purchases. It looked stunning on a cinema screen and, no doubt, it will look stunning on HD. One thing I do love about Danny Boyle films is the little touches of spirituality explored and – according to Danny Boyle – the exploration of spirituality in a serious Sci-Fi movie is a must …


Bear in mind, I am being brief and a little cynical in this synopsis, so I only advise you to watch the film and see how words cannot actually describe the brilliance of this movie so why bother explain it clearly when you should just watch it …

We wake up on Icarus II a spaceship that has a job to do – shoot a nuclear bomb into the sun sun, thus reigniting it. This has been tried before, on Icarus I, but alas, their mission failed and no-one knows why. The crew are a diverse mix of professionals – amongst them Searle (Cliff Curtis) an on-board psychiatrist of the ship, Mace (Chris Evans), the macho-military engineer and, the lead guy, Capa (Cillian Murphy) a calm physicist who operates the ‘payload’. There are many others on the ship: Kaneda, Cassie, Corazon, Trey and Harvey but that is all. The first act establishes all these factors until – oh, my, god – we hear a signal from Icarus I, breaking the equilibrium. It is unlikely that anyone is still alive, but is it worth going to the ship and having two ‘payloads’? Doubling the chances of survival of the earth? Capa is given the choice and he decides ‘yes’ so off they go to Icarus I. They get to the ship with minor problems (well … maybe not minor … but … ) and, once on board, they see that someone went mad and killed everyone. The ships captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) who left a Kurtz-like message about God and failing missions. But he’s dead so don’t worry about it (well, he is burned from head-to-toe anyway). Then ‘someone’ separates the two ships from each other and a few lives are lost when they cross back to the original Icarus II. To finish Pinbacker turns out to be alive and well and sets off trying to kill everyone on board Icarus II and, after a lot of sharp razor-blade fighting, Capa manages to shoot his load (ho ho ho!) and Earth is saved.

What I reckon…

I make small cards every time I watch films and, for some silly – possibly pretentious reason – my first two ‘lines’ on this film were: “Ashes to ashes” – Sun, that is full of fire, “dust to dust” – Death and human skin. I don’t know exactly what that means or where it came from. It just is what is, and I thought I’d share it with you.

One thing which is clear, is the appreciation of the beauty of nature, and how this links to a possible spiritual awareness. The Buddha-like pose of Corazon as she holds a part of nature is one such example, while the music itself from John Murphy and Underworld (Why, for godssaake, is the soundtrack only available for download!!!) is almost transcendent. But maybe, the almost-obsession with beauty makes people feel closer to God? The spiritual focus is primarily on Fundamentalism rather than glorification: Searle begging Kaneda ‘What do you see?’ as Kaneda, close to death, looks into the the light is the curiosity of God, opposed to the reality of His existence, while Capa – caught between the science and nature during the finale shows the awe of His creation. It all feels a little preachy, but I think this is part of the focus. Pinbacker on the other hand is Bin-Laden. He is the distorted – both physically by burns and visually by Boyle – version of a human, twisted and corrupted. Pinbacker himself breaks a certain element of realism that was established before his arrival, clarifying his strange existence – as I am sure we can all agree that the Taliban would be better off just not being here. One interesting point Danny Boyle raises in the commentary track for the film is that Searle is the complete opposite of Pinbacker in terms of faith – where Searle is willing to die for his faith, and indeed he does, Pinbacker will sacrifice everyone else for his faith. Pinbacker emerges from light when Capa first sees him and creates darkness in the ship with his distorted view – and that final act of the film with Pinbacker shifts the entire film into this fast paced, horror movie a credit to regular-Danny Boyle collaborator editor Chris Gill.

One thing that I found fascinating was the use of colour and the choice of colours to show the bleakness of inside the ship, while outside has so much colour and beauty you cannot help, akin to Searle, but be in complete awe of the sun and all its majesty – so a clap to cinematographer Alwin Kuchler for this! The overall tone of the film is influenced by ‘Alien’, ‘2001:A Space Odyssey’ and Tarkovsky’s ‘Solaris’ (‘Solaris’ being the only one I haven’t seen…) and this is what makes it look so good – if you use such magnificent films to influence your work, then you can’t go too far wrong. Might not be unique, but its how art progresses – art and influence.

Personally, films with a spiritual or destiny theme always intrigue me and I think this is why I lover this film so much! Why are we here? How can free-will and pre-destined fate exist together? How valuable is human life? These are big questions and Alex Garland regularly raises these topics.

One interesting note Danny Boyle made on the commentary: “Three Sci-Fi elements when you do serious science-fiction film: Ship, crew and signal (that changes everything)”


  1. Just a quick comment (my first one… of many?)

    I don't like the ending.

    Can you add more options than genius and bullshit? Nice to have choice rather then left and right.

    Viva la West Wing.

  2. I wondered if you feel Danny Boyle had gone off his intended path with the recent critical success he's found himself lumbered with. Do you think it will affect his direction now that so much attention is on his work?

  3. Well Danny Boyle – many would feel – peaked with 'A Life Less Ordinary' and 'The Beach' in Hollywood, which effectively, bombed (I think 'The Beach' made its money back, while 'A Life Less Ordinary' didn't do as well – don't quote me on that though). So he retreated back to England making cheap BBC productions based up norf' with Jim Cartwright as screenwriter (Good stuff though…) and built up his credability so, I guess, if Danny Boyle does go somewhere rubbish post-Slumdog, he will just go back to North England and build his credability up again. Looking back for me, I think 'The Beach' is underrated and 'Vaccuuming Completely Nude in Paradise' (one of the two BBC productions) is brilliant – they are great films to be associated with Boyle. Its rare you get a director who retreats into such cheap and personal films akin to a debut director, but Danny Boyle seems to be completely comfortable doing that.

  4. I actually thought the ending fit with the overall arch of the story. Pinbacker was the physical representation of destiny against the crew, whether he had to stab them all to death could be argued, but the story suuports the ending.

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