Sunshine is a fascinating film, it divides critics and casual viewers alike. The general consensus seems to be that it’s high quality but the sudden swerve the entire movie takes half way through has generated huge debate and that is what I am keen to ultimately give my opinion on here.
When you strip away the technobabble the story is a simple one. Earth is in deep shit because the Sun is fading causing a new Ice Age. The human race come together, build a ‘stellar bomb’ that (should) return its heat output to normal and send it on its way inside a spaceship called Icarus I.
That Bomb, ship and crew vanish, all communication ends … so 7 years later the Human race try again. The second bomb is Earth’s last hope as it will not be possible to build another, it’s loaded aboard a new ship (Icarus II), launched into space and that’s where we join the fun …
A movie like this will always succeed or fail on how good the characters are and director Danny Boyle mostly gets this right. The performances are understated but strong …
Cillian Murphy is his usual excellent self playing Capa, the ship’s physicist … Chris Evans is surprisingly good as Mace, the calm and clear thinking ship’s engineer … Hiroyuki Sanada is utterly watchable playing Kaneda, the ship’s noble Captain and Rose Byrne impresses as Cassie, The ship’s pilot. Those four play characters you can care about, become attached to. They are competent and professional and any flaws they have feel natural and never forced.
Its not all good news though … The rest of crew are saddled with concerning personal issues that reveal themselves throughout the film, normally to help move the plot forward but the way they act doesn’t sit quite right with me, especially considering they are attempting to preserve the entire Human race. You would assume they had been put through some serious training and carefully studied so they have the right mental stamina for such an epic mission? Doesn’t seem like it … Maybe they were just too cold to care?!
Cliff Curtis plays Searle, the ships Doctor who spends his days obsessing about the Sun and carefully exposing himself to ever increasing amounts of intense sunlight, thanks to the ships special viewing lounge. The skin on his face starts to peel and get crispy but nobody seems that bothered? … Michelle Yeoh plays Corazon, a biologist who takes care of the ship’s vital ‘oxygen garden’ but seems to value this plant life above the human life around her … Benedict Wong plays Trey, the ship’s navigator who makes a serious mistake early on and after crying for a bit gets suicidal and has to be sedated (Useful crew member!) Worst of all is Troy Garity as Harvey, the ship’s second-in-command. He is twitchy, selfish, cowardly and generally useless.
About 20 minutes in the crew hear a distress signal, it is (of course) coming from the long, lost Icarus I, it gives them a dilemma that sets up the rest of the movie … Do they detour from their mission to find out what happened AND pick up the original bomb (“Two last, best hopes are better than one”) OR, do they ignore the original ship and focus on the task at hand. Capa is asked to make an informed choice and bad things start happening but approaching the hour mark the film is still just a classy Sci-Fi thriller, any misfortunes the crew face are linked to the technology they are working with such as the huge solar shield at the front of the ship … Very little hints at the insanity that is about to unfold!
At 75 minutes everything changes and Sunshine enters the realm of Horror, ‘Slasher Horror’ to be brutally honest. Our main characters go from dealing with risky spacewalks to running down dark corridors, bloody hand prints can be seen on walls, people get stabbed and sliced … Its all a bit ‘Event Horizon’ …
It is revealed that the captain of the Icarus I, Pinbacker (played by Mark Strong) is still very much alive. He killed the original crew after “Talking to God” and believes the Human race must accept its fate so we can all go to Heaven. He is naked and covered in deep skin burns due to exposing himself to the Sun (Much like Searle). He enjoys carrying surgical tools and generally murders everyone he comes into contact with. He also has Jason Voorhees type supernatural abilities such as being able to withstand considerable damage to his body and good old fashioned slasher teleportation … He can move around the ship undetected and appear right behind you without making a sound.
Whenever he is on screen the image turns fuzzy and distorted and your ears are assaulted with thumping and screeching noises. Boyle did this to create an aura of pure insanity around Pinbacker, to give viewers a sense of the madness within. It makes him a ghostly figure that you never really get a good look at.
What you ultimately take from Sunshine will almost totally depend on how ‘jarring’ you find this plot twist. I personally adore the film and think the sombre, intense atmosphere Boyle created from the very start meant I could accept Pinbackers arrival but I’ve lost count of the times I have seen people type comments such as “I loved Sunshine UNTIL” so it’s certainly a sore point that lingers on.
By the time the film reaches its conclusion the whole thing becomes very spiritual and surreal anyway so Pinbacker no longer feels totally out of place but the question remains, was he needed?
He is there to create conflict and danger for the characters to overcome, to build an exciting climax to the movie but they had already faced huge problems before he turned up and part of me knows the film would have still been perfectly good following that path. I read an online rumour once that suggested the Searle character was going to turn into a potential danger to the mission in early drafts of the script and considering his unusual behaviour that might have been an interesting direction to take things, it certainly would have been a smoother transition.
So, does the Horror within Sunshine derail the entire movie? In my opinion, No … You just need to subtly adjust your brain, take a deep breath and continue enjoying the ride.
Sunshine may be a bit confused but its brave and beautiful.
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