There was a time when all men knew of God was The Sun. Bathed in God-light, mankind was warmed and invigorated, and, inspired with its restless energy, they traveled across the earth as God watched, sleeping as It slept. Man was a loyal disciple of the Sun until discovering fire, and, with the harnessed the power of light and heat, were free to more without God’s blessing and warm their children when It neglected them. And so the Sun’s dominion over man, although still powerful and always prevalent, dimmed, and man’s existential quest for knowledge and the power prescribed to God (lordship, knowledge) began.
It is the reawakening of this long rationalized awe that director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) and novelist/screenwriter Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later) attempt to tap into with their newest collaboration, the sci-fi meditation/thriller Sunshine. The earth is dying. Ra’s strength is feeble and diminishing rapidly, and it is the last ditch effort of a racially diverse group of space cowboys to rekindle his light by flying a giant metal umbrella, (nay!) shield, called Icarus II to his doorstep and leave him a Manhattan sized nuclear payload before ringing the bell and hotfooting it back home as heroes. Piece of cake. And, oddly enough, for the first part of the film, it is. That is of course until the crew picks up a distress beacon from earth’s first attempt to save itself, Icarus I (uh-oh!), and, like in any dutiful sci-fi film, make the decision to “investigate”, at which point things go… wrong. Credit crewman Mace (the increasingly compelling Chris Evans) with the understatement of the year, who, before venturing into the eerily quiet (and dusty…human skin we’re told) bowels of Icarus I, cracks wise to a nervous colleague who is against splitting up, “Why, because we might get picked off by aliens?” Ha! He wishes! What the crew uncovers is too fun and bizarre to spoil, but suffice it to say that the increasingly close proximity to our oldest God unleashes a wicked righteousness and runic spirituality not exclusive to Dr. Searle (Cliff Curtis), who, like any “doctor” in a sci-fi film, is looking a bit singed around edges. It’s no spoiler to say that eventually the cast is elaborately whittled down and we are left with physicist and nuclear engineer Capa’s (Cillian Murphy) marbelous blue eyes and big brain (seriously, the proportion of Cillian Murphy’s head to the rest of his small and frail body hints at some kind of alien relationship) to save the day (with some excellent help from Mace/brawn and Cassie/boobs).
What happens next is what happens in every Danny Boyle film: a calamity of genres energized with the technical skill and psychological brutality of a Jaeger Bomb. As the movie races to the climax, Boyle increasingly cuts and blurs the film, like sunspots, with overexposed frames that give cinematic form to both the bending of time and the warping effect of the gravity created by man’s desire to demand the attention of his all-father, even as he slowly wastes away and dies before him. Sunshine is a memorable film largely due to the talent of the creators and actors involved, but also for being what its peers this summer have not: A thinking man’s blockbuster with a passing awareness of the beauty of human endeavor.