Sunday, February 10, 2008


**In the theatrical movie funk known as the month of February, I am turning to DVDs of previously-missed movies.

Sunshine provides moments of brilliance, little warmth

There was a point about halfway through Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" where I had to force myself to stop questioning the science. Indeed, in order to fully accept the story of a manned mission to the sun, one must suspend more disbelief than is in the payload of a nuclear device capable of creating a new sun within an old, dying one. That is the mission of the seven astronauts aboard the Icarus 2, and it is aboard this fated spacecraft (with an unfortunate name, if you're familiar with your Greek mythology) that this crew is faced with questions of responsibility, sacrifice, and--to a certain extent--faith and madness.

This is not an "adventure" film. Written by Alex Garland, who wrote the atmospheric apocalypse-by-virus flick "28 Days Later," "Sunshine" operates on a more cerebral level that plays less like Star Trek and more like Steven Soderbergh's under-rated "Solaris," which examined the effects on the human condition of the isolation of deep space. There is a quiet, moody resignation felt by everyone aboard the Icarus who seem to know, at least without admitting it outright, that their mission is of the kamikaze variety. How could it not be when the all-important shield that protects the spacecraft from being incinerated by the sun during its flight is to be detached when the payload is fired at the dying star?

The spacecraft is called Icarus 2 for a reason, however. The first Icarus was lost from contact seven years previous. When the crew members of the second effort pick up the distress beacon of the original ship, the decision is made to slightly alter their course to see if they can acquire that ship's payload. According to the Icarus 2's physicist Robert Capa (Cillian Murphy), two last hopes for humanity are better than one. Naturally, a change in course brings about a series of problems and even a plot twist that I will not reveal here, but I have a feeling that it is a development that has divided audiences. Personally, I found the third act to suffer for it, but felt that the execution of the filming of this act was gorgeous and haunting. In fact, those are the two words I would use to best describe "Sunshine" as a whole.

The effects on the mind and the desolation of outer space are explored and portrayed in a most chilling way, both literally and figuratively. Would a brainiac wonder if the effects of the body's exposure to the vacuum of space were being shown accurately? Most definitely. It's been a subject of constant debate on the scientific circuit for decades. Of course, the same could be said for all of the science that is in "Sunshine," and this is why it's most important to not get wrapped up in it. This is not what this film is about. It contemplates what it means to one's psyche to hold the future of humanity in one's hands. It strikes a serious mood without straying into cliche "action hero" territory.

Perhaps most essential, however, "Sunshine" observes the psychology of space travel rather than the scientific accuracy of the mission itself. Those who are seeking absolute realism in such a place would do best to sticking to periodicals on solar physics. For the rest of us, who enjoy watching how effects, cinematography, musical score, and acting can be effectively woven together to create a feeling of quiet resignation about a mission that is beyond all comprehension, "Sunshine" is a movie worth seeing in spite of the problems with its final act.

Gouda's Final Grade -- A-

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