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In 2057 the inevitable has occurred—the Sun is dying and its death will mark the end of mankind. With the end of humanity at stake, Earth’s inhabitants send the finest astronauts toward the Sun on spacecraft Icarus I with a nuclear payload to reignite the Sun. However, Icarus I is lost and a second spacecraft, Icarus II, is sent with a new payload, utilizing all of Earth’s fissile materials, in a final attempt to save all life on Earth.
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Sunshine pits science against nature and provides outstanding visuals and intense action, bringing viewers along for the ride on the spaceship Icarus.
Sunshine begins by setting up the crisis at hand in the year 2057. Our Sun is dying. Parts of the world that would never be touched by snow are now completely covered with it, and the U.S. has sent up a crew of 8 scientists and astronauts to save the world by detonating a nuclear payload into the Sun and reigniting it, creating a star within a star, as Capa, who is the nuclear physicist (Cillian Murphy), explains to us in his narration.
After the failure of Icarus I, and the crew is 16 months into its mission towards the Sun and will enter the dead zone, where no communication will be possible with Earth, sooner than expected. Communications Officer Harvey (Troy Garrity) tells the crew to send one last message, and as Capa is sending his message, Icarus II flies into the dead zone. Capa and Mace (Chris Evans) have a clash because Capa took up all of the time in the video booth to send his message and no one else can contact their loved ones on Earth.
Capa alone decides that two payloads and two opportunities to reignite the sun are better than one. Once he makes this decision, everything starts going wrong on Icarus II. One by one each crewmember dies, some sacrificing himself or herself heroically for the mission. Each of their deaths brings the question of God’s will versus the survival of humanity.
Danny Boyle wanted to tackle the science fiction genre after having success with his other films, but in an interview has said that Sunshine will be his only attempt at sci-fi because of the amount of difficulty and hard work that went into the film, which is evident throughout many aspects of the film.
Boyle also collaborated with NASA and astrophysicists in writing the script. Alex Garland wrote the script and also wrote 28 Days Later and the novel that Boyle turned into The Beach (2000). Garland and Boyle worked about a year on the Sunshine script with various drafts. The final draft examines the humanity of the characters as well as scientists’ abilities to handle a crisis threatening Earth. Boyle foreshadows the mission’s failure by naming the ship Icarus, a character from Greek mythology commonly known for his attempt to escape Crete by flight, which ended in a fall to his death. My favorite part of Boyle’s films is the reoccurring concept, which presents the characters with a conflict that has extremely complex solutions; additionally, Boyle presents the viewer with the same conflict.
The ensemble cast fulfills their roles, but Chris Evans and Cillian Murphy shine through the rest. Evans plays the role of the Engineer and plays him as rather arrogant; however, his character is all about the sole purpose of the mission. Evans does a great job of putting the viewers off at first, but then you slowly realize that everything he does is for the good of humanity. Cillian Murphy plays the physicist. He is an outsider because he is the only one who is not an astronaut, yet he is the most valuable member because his job is to deliver the payload. Murphy plays the role modestly, but his character and performance delivers when needed. There is also a lot of great action in the final act of the film as the crew fights to achieve their mission, and Boyle’s pacing, along with a great score created by the band Underworld, creates a suspenseful conclusion to the mission of Icarus II.
Sunshine by far is one the best science fiction films of the 2000s. Danny Boyle may have been overwhelmed with the amount of time needed to complete this film (over a year spent in post-production alone), but the film is a sleeper hit, overshadowed by the success of his previous films and Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which was released the following year. Sunshine is an astonishing journey to watch and enjoy from your couch for any night of the week. This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.