Flickering Myth’s writing team count down to the release of Trance by selecting their favourite Danny Boyle movies; next up is Luke Graham with 2007’s Sunshine…
One of the most appealing aspects of Danny Boyle’s ability as a filmmaker is his immense versatility. Unlike other directors, he is not tied to one single genre, and this ensures that each film not only requires a reinvention or variation on his own style, but ensures that his films are never stale but instead stand out as vibrant and individual.
For me, the Boyle film that most embodies this quality is the underrated 2007 sci-fi/horror Sunshine. Set in the near-future, Earth is near destruction due to a dying Sun creating a “solar winter.” In order to reignite the sun, a team of scientists and astronauts drag a giant bomb into space with the intention of throwing it into the Sun’s core. Aboard the unironically named Icarus II, things do not go according to plan for the crew for the international eight-man crew.
Excusing a few bits of pseudo-science (the ship’s simulated gravity system and the idea that Earth could create a bomb with enough fissile material to power a sun) the film is a dream for fans of hard-science fiction, like Duncan Jones’ Moon or Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland (who also worked with Boyle on 28 Days Later) did extensive research for the film, collaborating with physicists and NASA, in order to create an accurate portrayal of what future missions into space might be like, even down to mixed nationalities of the crew.
This helps to produce an engaging, thought-provoking film about science and belief. The slow pace and attempts at realism allow the audience to immerse themselves into the setting and the human drama amongst the cast; an ensemble of brilliant actors and actresses, including Boyle main-strays Cillian Murphy and Mark Strong, as well as now well-known faces such as Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids), Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Michelle Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha).
Sunshine is strong evidence of Boyle’s ability to extract great performances from his actors: the whole cast give strong, evocative performances, making you care about them. The characters are fleshed out and have dept, no one feels flat or boring to watch. The strongest example of this is the performance of Chris Evans.
Before I saw Sunshine, I didn’t think much of Chris Evans as an actor, but his performance here as the pragmatic, stern Mace completely changed my opinion of him; when I heard he was cast as Cap, I knew he could bring a sense of gravitas to the role, and Evan’s performance as Steve Rodgers remains one of my favourite parts of last year’s The Avengers. Partly this is down to the fact that Evans is a good actor, but a significant factor is that Boyle helped, in my opinion, to pull out this leading man persona by giving him the chance to play a more serious, demanding part.
On top of the great acting on display, Boyle and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler (another long-time Boyle collaborator) make the film look amazing. The mix of hues, from the blue exteriors of the ship, to the dark yellows and browns of space are engaging and the visuals (including the great depictions of space) are as good as those of Terrence Malick. The Sun itself, which plays a key part in the story in unexpected ways, is portrayed as a malevolent, foreboding presence, but one you can’t stop looking at, recalling 1972’s sci-fi classic Solaris.
The film does have problems, however. Many may be disappointed by how the third act switches gears from an existential drama and hard science fiction, to slasher-esque horror movie, like Alien or Event Horizon, as Mark Strong enters the film as hideously burned insane astronaut Pinbacker. While it’s a shame Boyle felt the need to introduce such a conventional plot device, it can’t be denied that it is done well and ramps up the tension. Pinbacker is also intended to represent religious fanaticism, in order to create a theme of religion against science, and this may not sit well with some viewers.
Despite these shortfalls, Sunshine is still an engaging, challenging character piece, which stands strong with the sci-fi classics it emulates and matches up with the best in Boyle’s filmography.