After my wonderful first appearance on the podcast DrivebyNerding I am already planning some possible discussions for my next appearance on the show. On the previous engagement we discussed movie adaptations of video games and the like, which proved fun and humorous with a general consensus that most of the films were outright awful. As such I suggested that our next endeavor focus primarily on underrated science fiction films, because I had a few in my mind that I felt would be worth including as well as a justification as to catch up with many that I had desired to see for quite some time, one of which being Danny Boyle's Sunshine, a film I had initially attempted to watch on a Playstation 3 some years ago only to discover that the bluray disc programs had a glitch that caused the pop-up video commentary to run the entire time, therefore placing it on the back burner until I later obtained a regular bluray player, as well as a copy of the film, which I had at the time ordered from Netflix. Thankfully, I was forced because my then two year younger frame of cinematic reference might have lost sight as to the truly profound things occurring within the context of Boyle's film. While I will always have a deep admiration and thus favor 28 Days Later... I would not hesitate to suggest that Sunshine currently stands as Boyle's masterpiece. Between its genre hybridity, its ambient soundtrack and some excellent acting by all involved one could easily describe Sunshine as being an orchestral film perfectly layered with competing sounds and grand ideas while also lending itself to subtle infusions of alienation, desire and isolation, all themes that exists in unique manners within the sci-fi, particularly the space travel, genre. While I am always jumping to state that Paul Thomas Anderson and Steven Soderbergh are the best directors currently working, I am also aware that many of their works can be a tinge bit alienating to the more traditional filmgoer, where as Boyle manages to make narratively direct films that are nonetheless captivating and to the more seasoned film viewer prove to engage with a cinematic language and vision that is unique, inventive and in possession of a finger on the pulse of the future of film. I in the process of viewing this film am convinced yet again that Boyle may well be the best director working today.
Sunshine focuses on the crew of the Icarus 2, a spaceship whose orders are to travel to the sun with a bomb that will reignite the cooling sun and subsequently heat up the earth that is beginning to freeze from the lack of heat. The task has a certain degree of uncertainty attached to it since they are not the first crew to attempt the endeavor and are indeed following in a direct route behind the previous Icarus 1 team who disappeared inexplicably on the way to the sun. The crew is headed by Captain Kaneda (Hiroyuki Sanada) a stoic and direct Japanese man whose approachability and poise make him an excellent leader. Under Kaneda include the likes of an entire and diverse crew whether it be Searle (Cliff Curtis) the ship's psychological officer who has a particularly vested preoccupation with staring at the closely impending sun, the brash but well meaning engineer Mace (Chris Evans) or even the somewhat emotive pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne). The clear odd man in the group is the ships physicist, in charge of operating the bomb Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy). Together they are undertaking a dangerous task, one that is reaffirmed when they begin receiving contact signals from Icarus 1, which are identified as distress signals, a haunting revelation that is paired by the equally disturbing news that due to a trajectory malfunction the ship is hightailing towards certain destruction. Kaneda and Capa take it upon themselves to correct the issue only to result in the loss of Kaneda in the process. This change of direction leads the crew to being in line with the lost Icarus 1 chip, which they quickly mount and discover the crew to be burned alive, an obvious result of their failed equipment in such a close relation to the blistering sun. At this point all forms of technology falter and other crew members die in the process, a tragic occurrence which doubles as a boon considering that oxygen becomes scarce. Aiming to complete the mission, a conversation with the ship's artificial intelligence leads Capa to discover that they have an extra person occupying space on the ship, the extremely burnt Pinbacker (Mark Strong) whose psychological state has deteriorated, leading him to believe it is his task to destroy the crew and bring death to the world in the process. While Pinbacker begins killing the remaining crew, Capa finishes the mission and ultimately escapes, leaving Pinbacker to die and bringing brightness back the the ice crusted Earth, although the survival of Capa is left in question in the films closing scenes.
Danny Boyle, never one to hide his clear influences, made open statements about the influences of Kubrick, Scott and Tarkovsky on this particular film, particularly the manner with which space and its simulacrums serve as a fabrication of the experiential world of Earth that can only fall apart under the foolishness of its own artifice. Whether it be the space islands of Solaris, the failure of gender roles in Alien, or a complete reconsideration of evolution as occurs in 2001: A Space Odyssey, one realizes that to seek uniformity and normalcy within the expansive, and for sake of argument limitless voids of the stars is assured alienation and destruction. Danny Boyle, in the cinematic genius that he has proven himself to be, manages to extend this beyond the metaphor of space to the very nature of cinema itself. It is easy to pick up the rather distinct references to a godlike presence within the film whether it be each characters decidedly elaborate moral compass, or the fact that the space ships all look like large optical lenses but every thing is in the presence of something so much larger that their respective sanities crack in an attempt to comprehend its omnipresent state. Indeed the bright, searing light of the sun breaching the windows could also be seen as a statement on this element, but it is what Boyle does with the images and subliminal moments that make it something far greater. Throughout the film, the ambient soundtrack swells and sinks with the action and drama of the narrative, yet one could argue that when music is needed most, it is often paired with silence or jarring musical riffs that crackle against normalcy, as though being tampered with by the very film itself. Similarly, when the inexplicably living Pinbacker begins to implement his havoc upon the surviving members of Icarus 2, the films images begin to split and mirror themselves, which along with extreme angles and profile closeups manage to completely immerse the viewer, through of all things, making them feel disconnected and alienated by the entire experience. It is not until Capa comes into contact with something so grand and fantastical that the narrative reclaims its normalcy, perhaps as a result of coming face-to-face with that intangible thing that is greater than the singular human experience. While I am not prone to call things God, I am sure Boyle is aware of the challenges of contemporary astrophysicists to pinpoint the force that holds the universe together, and it clearly influenced not only his narrative, but the very method with which he made the narrative exist on film.
Key Scene: Kaneda's death is moving, tragic and highly cinematic.