2007, R, 107 min. Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Cliff Curtis, Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh, Rose Byrne, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, Chris Evans, Troy Garity, Mark Strong.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., July 27, 2007
“It’s Sunspotting,” quipped the guy next to me of director Boyle’s reunion with screenwriter-novelist Alex Garland. (If you’re generous, think 28 Days Later; if not, 2000’s The Beach.) Set in the murkiest reaches of outer space, where there is great philosophical import if not scientific accuracy, the film follows “eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb” en route to the sun, which is dying prematurely in the not-too-distant future and needs an explosive jump start from a physicist (Murphy) in guyliner. Unwisely dubbed the “Icarus Project,” the mission sends a rainbow coalition of astronauts 55 million miles from an endangered Earth with Yeoh’s herb garden as their source of backup oxygen; cut off from contact, the crew’s only comfort is a sexy computer voice (Chipo Chung). But a discovery on the dark side of Mercury begets sabotage, insubordination, and a fierce battle between tragic optimism (in the midst of rubble, Yeoh finds a tiny seedling) and fatalism (“All our hopes, our dreams are foolish in light of this”). If you are bothered by movie spoilers, please read no further. I will not honor the spoiler code for a film whose Fox's official website trumpets on its front page, "Sunshine: 8 Deaths,” as if it were pleased. (You can view each character’s death scene, too.) Unsurprisingly, the movie about eight astronauts strapped to a bomb hurtling toward the sun is concerned with death – how we go to meet it, what our lives will have meant – and its best moments engage these questions. Boyle relishes the moving parts of his spaceship; they groan and tumble like giant gears in a cosmic clockwork, ticking away the lives and the oxygen of his characters. The film is never less than beautiful, with sumptuous photography of the ship’s quilted, womblike passageways and an observation room drenched in hot, sudden light. Nor can Boyle resist pretty simulations and photogenic close-ups of eyeballs. (In Solaris, the granddaddy of philosophical space opera, it was ears.) Problems arise in the film’s third act, however, with a profoundly implausible plot turn that sends the movie skidding into bogeyman horror. It cheapens the sentiment, and the film doesn’t recover.