After 28 Days Later haunted audiences in 2003, director Danny Boyle helmed a sci-fi thriller named Sunshine. Boyle previously directed the 1996 hit Trainspotting and went on to produce other prominent films, such as Steve Jobs. In an IGN interview with Patrick Kolan, Boyle admits that he “always wanted to do a space movie; and there has not been a movie made about the sun, really. And yet it’s the most important thing. ”
Sunshine takes place in the year 2057, when the sun is burning out and the Earth is freezing over. An astronaut team mans a bomb that will supposedly trigger the sun into warming once again. As they fall further into space, they encounter a stress call from a ship that disappeared years earlier. The team decides to attend to the ship and from this point, the mission becomes increasingly challenging and the narrative ever more abstract.
Despite being a unique idea, Sunshine was not celebrated the way it could have been. Mick Lasalle of SFGate says the movie “lacks charm or interest” and that “action is rendered in flashes, but what’s going on remains obscure,” In contrast, Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe notes that if the movie “does not float your boat as a work of science fiction, action, philosophy, heliocentricism, or staggering visual spectacle, then it certainly succeeds as a parable for cinematic ambition.”
While, for some, Sunshine may have been overly ambitious and featured some unsuccessful genre-blending, Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland present a thought-provoking work that confronts the mother of humanity, the sun. Sunshine faces humanity’s insignificance and arrogance against something as mysterious and powerful as a star.
Boyle worked to create this sense of togetherness and smallness amongst the cast by putting them through various drills. In his interview with IGN, Boyle explains that at one point they went to a nuclear submarine that mimics “claustrophobic living conditions.” Many of these efforts poured into the film went unnoticed but resulted in the most successful areas of the movie. Here is why Sunshine is one of the most underrated sci-fi movies of the century so far.
The Underlying Spiritual Message of Sunshine
The ship’s psychologist, Searle, reserves moments to observe the sun because the view brings him calm. Spiritually, he seems more aligned with the situation, realizing that he and his team are really “just stardust.” He says at one point that he is distinct from darkness, but he is “[enveloped] by total light ”and“ it becomes [him]. ” He maintains this connection with sunlight and insignificance as a human being. Each crew member on the Icarus II represents a different level of spirituality and connection.
With Searle, Kaneda, and Corazon, they never lose touch with what is important to them (their “ultimate concern,” as theologian Paul Tillich calls it), and consequently commit selfless acts. The remainder of the crew is more atheist or agnostic, and the characters who survive to the conclusion are a balance of both spiritual and atheist. The diverse and highly representative range of actors portraying the characters (Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Benedict Wong, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada, and an excellent Cillian Murphy performance) are all perfect, even if they remain subservient to the style and themes of the film.
In these instances, Boyle told IGN he was considering that how “to go and meet the source of life in the solar system is bound to create a spiritual dimension” no matter your upbringing. In contrast, Boyle also notes that there is “an arrogance about science” that insists it can control this massive, mysterious object that could be a creation of God. In contrast, Pinbacker, the film’s villain, represents the extreme side of religion and faith.
The Vivid Cinematography and Sound
Although Sunshine may have been later surpassed by other visually stunning films like Gravity and Interstellar, Boyle’s visuals and special effects still reiterate his point about the sun’s uncontainable power. The movie features lots of shots that accentuate the star’s size and blinding presence against the artificial form of Icarus II. Boyle says in an interview with Eye for Film that he wanted to show “the extremes of beauty and violence” and how the sun is beautiful and violent. ” Even when the film almost descends into horror, every single shot is achingly beautiful.
To go along with these striking, intense cinematic images, sound effects stand out with startling clarity: the heat radiating off the sun, the unsettling sounds of a ship hurtling through space, and the muffled noise of Icarus II’s interior. These ingredients create an atmosphere that envelops the viewer and paints a realistic image of outer space. Alongside this is the incredible score from John Murphy and the band Underworld; the music of the film is utterly gorgeous and often emotionally devastatingwith the piece Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor) going on to accrue millions of listens online and later accompany the trailers for many other films.
The Ending of Sunshine
Many critics agree that this is the area where Sunshine falls off its original course. Quentin Tarantino actually reviewed Sunshine, and while he loved it a lot more than many, he is often in alignment with others in saying that the ending unsuccessfully veers into horror movie territory in sharp contrast to everything which came before. It seems the film morphed into a slasher flick once the remaining crew encountered Pinbacker and took an abrupt turn, rather than just a surprising one.
However, in the final moments, the audience sees sunlight finally falling back on Earth, a callback to the film’s original themes. While some call the conclusion jarring, this might be what makes Sunshine authentic, experimental, and extreme, as Boyle intended.
Although some of Danny Boyle’s movies could be considered underrated, his body of work is impressive and successful, earning him one win and one nomination at the Academy Awards. None of his films, however, have been as underrated and poorly understood as Sunshinea beautiful masterpiece that deserves to be seen in theaters if ever possible. With its complete mastery of the cinematic medium, even if Alex Garland’s film script falters near the end, Sunshine burns brightly.
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