A trip to the sun to save the world becomes a one-way trip to hell for the crew of the Icarus II.
Sunshine tells the story of a spaceship crew, in the year 2057, making a second attempt to save the world by reigniting a dying sun with a massively powerful nuclear bomb. It’s not much anything like most outer space adventure films, at least not in the conventional sense. It’s more of a chronicle of a desperate mission and what happens on the way. It’s a journal of a tragic voyage that ends on a hopeful note.
The film is a 2007 British-American science fiction thriller film directed by Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle and adapted from a screenplay written by Alex Garland. The script’s focus is on the technical and scientific aspects of the story along with the traumatic psychological journey the crew endures.
An unusual thing worth mentioning about this production is the director cast a group of international actors for the film and had them live together and learn about topics related to their roles, as a form of method acting. To have the players realistically react to visual effects implemented in post-production, the filmmakers constructed live sets to serve as cues. The ensemble cast features Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Curtis, Troy Garity, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and Chipo Chung.
Danny Boyle’s film is visually impressive with lots of exterior shots of the spaceship involved as well as painstakingly constructed sets and props, like some remarkable spacesuits, which reflect the care taken to make the film as realistic as possible. These environments invoke a claustrophobic feel to the movie. Sunshine is a more cerebral and metaphorical brand of science fiction at least at first until it suddenly makes a sharp turn into something else when the film inexplicably changes into a horror movie. The film starts out, as we get acquainted with the all-star cast, feeling a little melancholy, but that overall is what you might expect to find on a ship when the crew knows they may well never see the earth they are trying to save again.
Icarus II is the second attempt by humankind to set off a bomb to reignite the dying sun as a way to save a planet that is slowly freezing to death. The first attempt’s fate, a mission named Icarus I, remains a mystery. It failed in its mission, and no one knows why. Part of the story in this film is the second mission finds the remains of the first.
This movie allows us to witness this seemingly doomed mission onboard the ship assigned to carry it out like a fly on the wall that witnesses everything. Some characteristics might seem familiar to anyone that has seen a science fiction movie about a mission in space aboard a ship where care has been taken to make it seem as realistic as possible. Classic shots of long tunnel-like corridors and claustrophobic rooms that the crew calls home while it lasts.
There is a chamber for viewing the object of their mission with filters in place to prevent the unabridged sight of our nearest star from causing permanent physical damage to the observer. Members of the crew are seen spending time there, and possibly meditating on their fate of being chosen for this mission to save the world. For one crew member, at least, it becomes an obsession.
Things begin to go wrong soon after we join the crew, as evidence of the stresses being experienced tempers flare and there’s even a short physical altercation. In the case of one team member madness follows. The trip has a transformative effect on him physically as well as psychologically.
The film’s narrative depicts the crew’s downward spiral into a pessimistic and increasingly neurotic mental state while evidence mounts their mission will become an abysmal failure. There is suicide, and eventually, murder follows. Sunshine is not an upbeat film. Ironically one crew member freezes to death after a heroic attempt to save the ship and the mission which he manages to pull off. After it looks like it’s certain the mission has failed one last desperate attempt to rescue the mission succeeds, and the film ends on a hopeful note that the tragic voyage saves the earth from frozen doom.
I’m not in love with this movie, but it has a lot to recommend it. Sunshine is a technically well-done film, but some viewers may be put off by the movie’s dour mood and events. The influence of other classic science fiction films is apparent; Sunshine shows signs of influence from films like Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968), and Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979).