Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
What if you had one chance to save humanity from certain destruction? Oh, how many times has that scenario been played out in the movies, about a trillion? Someones always saving humanity from certain destruction. Since it isnt a novel concept (by any stretch of the imagination), Sunshine needs to come up with a way to make the doomsday scenario interesting. And as unlikely as it seems, it succeeds quite well.
Sunshine takes place aboard the Icarus II. The eight crew members have been traveling for nearly two years to reach the sun. You see, the sun is dying, and as it dies, so dies humanity as winter becomes a permanent and ever more frigid condition. The mission of the Icarus II is to detonate a device within the sun to trigger it to reignite, thus saving humanity from certain destruction. Unfortunately, this Icarus is the Icarus II for a reason. This isnt the first attempt to complete this mission. The first Icarus failed and nobody knows where, when or why. The Icarus II is the last chance.
The challenge for Sunshine is to make us care about both the mission and the characters, while also presenting us with something fresh to spark our interest. What the filmmakers (writer Alex Garland and director Danny Boyle) choose is to let some of the characterizations slide, focus on the mission and make the mission itself into a character. Its a great approach, as the sun is a fascinating celestial body, and its study makes for incredible concepts and visuals.
The eight crew members have different roles on the Icarus II. There are a lot of tasks to be taken care of on a mission of this length including maintaining and tending an oxygen garden, looking after the psychological well being of the crew as well as more mission specific roles. Most crucial to the success of the mission is physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy) who designed the device they are to deliver. He is the one who ignites the payload. Murphy is an interesting actor. He makes an excellent bad guy (hes the best part of Redeye) and his appearance is so striking that he stands out in any cast. He has intense, cold, blazing blue eyes that make his character seem almost otherworldly. Within the context of science fiction, his cool demeanor and icy eyes fit beautifully and he makes the most of the role by giving Capa enough humanity that we do care what happens to him but understand the gravity of the task with which he is assigned.
The rest of the cast is filled by decent actors in stereotypical roles. The captain, the cowardly second officer, the shrink, the hard core engineer, the weepy girl crew member, the naturalist. They all perform well even if their roles are familiar science fiction regulars.
What makes Sunshine really interesting is the sun. As soon as the film opens we understand just how big a role the sun plays and has played in the lives of this crew for the past months. They have thought of little else and as they get closer, it dazzles, frightens and consumes them in many ways. What does one think when looking at the sun? Even though they cannot look at it even in its diminished state without protection, its right there, burning down the surest thing humankind has ever known failing as they watch. The psychology of human beings getting so close to the heat, the light and the life given by the sun is part of the lure of Sunshine. Cliff Curtis as the psychologist pontificates a little on the topic and we watch the characters as they become immersed in the dying light.
The proximity to the sun also gives remarkable opportunities for the special effects team to strut its stuff. They do an absolutely marvelous job. The sun itself and the ship that is so carefully maneuvering its way ever closer both look remarkable. When characters or entire scenes are bathed in light it comes off as either harmful and menacing or soothing medicine for the soul depending on the context within the film. That the visuals can carry the weight of the context and mirror it is an amazing achievement.
The mission, as we are told early on, is to deliver the payload, which is essentially a bomb, into the sun to reignite the star. Everyone on board understands how critical is the outcome and everyone is, at least in word, ready to die to see it succeed. The mission becomes an entity of its own when we realize that there will be no pulling back on the dangers such an undertaking would involve. We dont have secondary characters in red suits that can be killed off while the main cast survives to live another episode this is it, do or die, and there are only eight people to do it. There are no repairs with a tube sock and duct tape this time. The mission is too dangerous, the ship too far away, the stakes too great for too much investment in any of the characters. Every single one is fair game and they know it the mission comes first. We invest in the mission the way other films have us invest in a character.
Sunshine has themes to spare, depending on who you are and how deep you choose to dig to find parallels with our world or other films or philosophical or religious views. I definitely see some parallels between certain segments of our society and some of the characters and situations as presented. But that part of the film, I believe, is going to be highly individual and dependant on your world view and probably your mood, the phase of the moon and what you ate for dinner. In fact, I could probably watch it again and take away another complete set of themes and allegories.
Sunshine takes a really tired premise saving mankind from certain destruction through a space mission and breathes new life into it using the power of the sun as a celestial body and the power of a mission to form and shape opinion and attitude. Cillian Murphy is perfect in the starring role; his physical features and his character's semi-detachment give him the perfect balance of sympathetic and cold. We like him, but it isnt about him. Were bathed in the light of the sun, its life-giving warmth and ceaseless, uncaring burning. With a combination of outstanding visual effects and a fascinating glimpse into a fictional sun, Sunshine is a definite success.
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