Monday, April 09, 2007

Sunshine (2007)

Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007)

"The sun is dying," narrates an offscreen voice. In order to save mankind, a crew of eight scientists were launched into space in a spaceship carrying a bomb (referred to in the film as "payload") to seed the sun with renewed energy. The first expedition was a failure when all of a sudden, its ship (called "Icarus," blatantly snatched from the Greek myth) just disappeared upon nearing the completion of its mission. The second expedition, inside a similar ship (called "Icarus II,"), is floating in space, just a few hundred kilometers from the "dead zone" wherein communication to and from Earth will be impossible. The members of the crew start sending their messages to their loved ones; aptly so as their mission becomes more complicated, more complex as they journey closer to the sun.

The ship's psychologist Searle (Cliff Curtis) is alone in the observation deck, lovingly eying an impressive view of the dying sun. He asks the ship's mainframe computer to decrease the filter so that he can witness the sun in all its glory. The ship's voice hesitates but recommends a filter decrease that will not be destructive to the eyes for at least thirty seconds; he agrees. A flash of light so powerful yet tremendous in its beauty invades the face of Searle. The first scene dictates that relationship that would pervade the film's core: the sun as a jealous lover to humankind; dominating, powerful, alluring, and superior.

When a distress signal from the missing first Icarus is heard from by the ship's communications officer Harvey (Troy Garity), the crew starts a very informal meeting (headed by the Captain Kaneda, played by Hiroyuki Sanada) is held. The screenplay (written by novelist Alex Garland, who has collaborated with Danny Boyle in many of his past films) has a good grasp of the internal politics of the crew. Kaneda is the stern yet understanding leader, Searle seems to be the moral compass, the rest, biologist Corazon (Michelle Yeoh), engineer Mace (Chris Evans), pilot Cassie (Rose Byrne), and navigator Trey (Benedict Wong) all share their respective opinions in what seems to be an informal governance (that will soon implode upon the introduction of unexpected conflict). As decided, the ship's physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), the only one knowledgeable to operate the payload, decides to change course to salvage the first Icarus, and its valuable payload. The decision results in a string of events that would put a hindrance to their original mission.

The film has been compared to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; confession time: I haven't seen it yet) or Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris (1972) wherein science fiction has been steered to meet intellectual, metaphysical, or even theological discourse. The comparisons are understandable as Boyle and Garland do raise questions that touch theological and philosophical complexities. It seems that the clinically clean white interiors of a space vessel, floating patiently among heavenly bodies, would arouse the human mind to question himself, and his own human limitations. Who are we, with our propensity for error, to hinder the course of cosmos, most especially when we are in the midst of everything perfect and harmoniously move and die in clockwork fashion?

However, Sunshine is only two thirds of a good sci-fi film (or even possibly a great one). It is crippled with a weak final act. Boyle suddenly gets awry with his direction: zealously overediting to incomprehensible levels, playing with visual styles that demean the controlled flair of the film's first two thirds. In an unfathomable twist of questionable narrative taste, Garland throws away all the reserved philosophical and theological exploration to drift into the familiar (and boring) area of unwanted murderous stowaways (which doesn't share a fraction of the complex implications of Solaris' memorable stowaways).

The ending is even weaker. It's an ending that totally betrays the initial promise of the film. It is unnecessarily cheesy and warm, especially compared to the overall atmosphere Boyle teases us to adapt to. After what seems to be an open-ended (or aesthetically stirring) conclusion in the core of the sun, Boyle cuts to the comforts of our world. We witness what our protagonists have been suffering for --- something essentially very similar to our world (actually quite safer wherein a woman with two minors can freely play and frolic outdoors, despite the obvious climate change). It just makes you wonder why Boyle had to tie every loose end, and finally wrap his film in a neat gift wrapper with matching red ribbon when it feels more right to just let it aimlessly drift while maintaining its ability to make us think. In summary, Sunshine feels like the monster child of Tarkovsky and Michael Bay.


Anonymous said...

I rather liked the ending. In the end, I still want man to survive.

Oggs Cruz said...

Oh, I also want man to survive. I just don't want to see our survival portrayed with all the melisma of a Celine Dion song.

A more ambiguous ending that merely hints, or better yet, leaves you wishing, is a lot more satisfying.

But thanks for the comment, it's nice to know that optimism for humankind is not rare in this age.

jayclops said...

Hi Oggs,

Finally saw Sunshine on pirated DVD last week, and got to see your point regarding its ending on how it fails to achieve the metaphysical level, the Solaris type of thing. I guess future space-exploration films will have to bear being compared after 2001 and Solaris. But I guess it's safe to say that being a commercial venture, it wants to satisfy the mankind-is-redeemed-and-saved moviegoing populace.