Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine' Remains a Beautiful, Spellbinding Mess

Sunshine—Danny Boyle’s 2007 sci-fi/maybe thriller, maybe horror tale about a dying sun and one intrepid crew’s mission to save it—so intrigued Patrick and I that we just had to do a BGRW episode on it. Join us as we discuss the movie’s gorgeous cinematography, interesting heroes, and not-so-grand final third, with plenty of room along the way to think about, well, “what do you see?”


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/9kpdz7/sunshine-danny-boyle-podcast

So, I love this movie, but part of my fond memory was what makes this horror instead of thriller, and the fact that I’m not a fan of horror films.

I was told this was a sci-fi adventure/thriller, essentially what you discuss the movie could’ve been, where the team of scientists are working to execute this mission in the face of challenges and conflict. Cool, I’m sold.

Somewhere in the second act, we get the first flashback cut, which I dismissed as being part of how psychology is part of the story. The second flashback cut drops and I look over at my buddy, who is watching my response instead of the movie, hit pause and ask, “really, is this how it’s going to go?”

He excitedly told me to hit play and keep watching, which sold me on watching the rest, but also that the rest of the movie would be exactly what I thought it would be, where my expectations changed from journey to the center of the earth (but in space) to Event Horizon.

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Boyle is one of my favorite directors, and Trainspotting (both book and film) are fantastic. I love that Boyle can’t be pinned to any one genre. He starts in drama, goes into horror with 28 Days Later, then sci-fi with Sunshine, then romance with Slumdog (I still like it, problematic as it is.) He’s everywhere, trying everything. You’d think that he’d stick to one once proven successful, like drug-infused drama films, but he never does!

He’s a director that refuses to be contained into any one box, and I find that enthusiastically refreshing. Some directors will do a stretch of one kind of film, but I feel like Boyle is always changing it up every release.

I’ve actually yet to see Trainspotting 2, despite the first being one of my favorite films of all time, but from what I hear it’s a great return to the characters.

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John Murphy’s soundtrack fucking rips. Big, emotional, drowning you in sound like an synthy blend of shoegaze and orchestral post-rock. A version of this track is also used in Murphy’s score to Kick-Ass to surprisingly profound effect, during Big Daddy’s death scene.

Murphy’s work on Boyle’s 28 Weeks Later also rules.

My semi-regular reminder that @patrick.klepek and @austin_walker promised to Be Good and Rewatch Hideaki Anno’s Shin Godzilla before diving headfirst into Evangelion later in the spring. Will get to the pod later today.

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Just a very minor heads up for Patrick and Danielle in case they don’t know. Cillian Murphy’s first name is pronounced with a hard k like Killian, rather than a soft C like Sillian.

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I swear this has come up before. I think it was when Rob Zacny confidently mispronounced something else and then later said Killian also confidently but more confidently because he’s confident in his Irish Gaelic pronunciations.

Holy shit, thank you! The Sunshine score is low-key one of the best musical scores of all time, and if you ever need to get into a “I feel like I could walk up to a star and punch a hole through it” kind of mood, it’s a tie between Adagio in D-minor and Return of the King’s Ride of the Rohirrim.

Murphy also did the score for Kick-Ass, and even though I thought the movie was kind of a mess, I used to leave the DVD on just for the menu music. It has a track called Strobe which is basically the Halo 2 Mjolnir Mix version of Adagio in D-Minor, which might explain why the soundtrack isn’t on streaming services.

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Sunshine is one of my favorite movies based on an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. It even has the same space madness third act.

Just came to say as an Uncle who lived next door to his nieces and nephews Interstellar 100% put a large dent in me. The first time I saw the movie I was losing my self when Matthew Mcconaughey’s character found out what he missed. Now that I live further away I try to make sure and visit and stay apart of their lives. I know I’ll be missing time with them often but that movie put the idea of needing to be there for them in front of me. I def think Patrick would be waking into a land mine of dad feelings on a rewatch of that movie.

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The Sunshine 3rd act liker has logged on.

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Am I going to discount the opinions of people who don’t say Cillian Murphy’s name right let alone put him on their hotties list?

You’re damn right I am. Look at that gorgeous man’s striking yet sensitive blue eyes!

Also, how do you not call this movie cosmic horror? The sun is interpreted as a space god that amazes people to worship and drives them mad. I agree that the product of the third act is executed poorly but I like the themes it conceives of the possibility that the sun is a very real god bestowing sublime experiences or even in the case of Pinbacker, powers, to its cultlike worshipers willing to harm themselves to be in it’s presence.

Though, I guess if I’m just here for eldritch god suns then Failbetter Games is out there doing that much better.

“THE SUN. THE SUN. THE SUN.”

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Honestly, “the third act is bad” is such a standard take. I’m glad they emphasized their reasons why it didn’t work for them here though.

I want to highlight something Danielle said about this movie having something I think she called a sense of the divine?

Anyway, within the first few minutes of this movie, I had already decided this was fantasy, not sci-fi. The idea of a bomb re-igniting the sun makes no sense. And the idea that 4% of the sun would damage your retinas but 3.1% would allow you to feel enveloped in the light in a unique and spiritual manner didn’t make sense either. So I decided pretty early on that this movie is fantasy like Star Wars is fantasy and I stopped trying to make sense of it.

I think that’s why I liked the third act as much as I did. It’s still not good. Being fantasy doesn’t mean you stop developing your characters which is the real strength of this movie. But having a sun cult monster fit pretty well into how I understood this movie to be playing out so I wasn’t too taken aback by that. And the sun cult monster allowed for some interesting visual techniques which I really enjoyed.

If Sunshine had played it straight and not included the Icarus 1 sub-plot, it might have been a better movie, but I don’t think it would have been as memorable. And I don’t think I would have enjoyed it. I love interesting messes.

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Sure the third act wobbles with the inclusion of Mark Strong in a flesh suit. That is only glimpsed at through shaky shouty cam that emulates a 90s NIN music video. The escalation as we get closer to the sun probably didn’t need living anatomy man to inject more peril into the situation. A sweaty Cillian Murphy and Adagio in D minor carries it all off perfectly as he drags himself to the finish line.

BUT

That ending scene with mother and child listening to Murphy’s opening message just as the sun envelops the snowy English countryside IS about as perfect an ending you can get. It’s just beautiful. I get teary eyed just thinking about it.

Also, as someone with a dust allergy, Icarus I is, from the moment they board, the most horrifying thing. I had a mini-freakout when everyone decided to take off their facemasks when really they should have just turned back around and done everything they could to launch that damn thing straight into the sun.

I apologize, I didn’t say anything last episode, but I’m finding these space horror movie episodes really boring. They’re so focused on what works and doesn’t work and not interrogating, say, the idea of the other characters imposing a sedated coma and the ways that ties back into societal issues on earth, or the militant background of Chris Pine’s engineer and what he does to the dynamic on the ship. Pat and Danielle almost actually get into the crew dynamics and instead they just kinda laugh about the macho dynamics and then immediately start talking about the last third. It’s just not the depth and consciousness I’ve come to love on Waypoints or Be Good and Rewatch It - and I think there IS more to talk about in these movies that kinda just gets dropped too fast.

Anyway, voicing my dissent now not because I think y’all are wrong but because I want these episodes to just treat these like movies rather than focusing so much on how they work as horror. I love horror movies - both total schlock like Knucklebones and 13 Demons, and the horror of a mother! or Audition. I just wanna hear you dig as deep as an episode like the Split or Purge episodes.

Gotta say, it was really strange to me hearing Patrick say he wanted exposition about “The Villain’s” motivations or backstory, and even didn’t think there was one.

Pinbacker only has a couple of lines in the movie, and his longest explains both his motivation, and the thematic connection that many people feel doesn’t exist between the two “parts” of the film.

“Our star is dying. All our science. All our hopes, our… our dreams, are foolish! […] When he chooses for us to die, it is not our place to challenge God.”

For me, this whole movie is a horror movie, of a sort, though not just because “Thrillers are Horror for Normal people”

There is a constant theme of The Sun, and Space, as an existential horror too vast and powerful for Our Human Bodies to resist, and for Our Human Minds to truly comprehend.

Searle is obsessed with it, and the implication is that he is a different fork on the road that Pinbacker went down in the face of that power. Kaneda is consumed by it completely. And the rest are destroyed by someone who comes to believe something so vast and powerful must have a Will of its own, and is compelled by that Will.

The final third does lose some of what makes the rest of the movie so special, I’ll say. It briefly loses much of the beauty that so defines the movie, and the otherwise stellar (NPI) music does take a dip into the stock standard discordant strings. Cassie’s character gets some short shrift as she ends up spending time as a nondescript Final Girl.

But I don’t think it can really be said to be an out-of-nowhere no-thought slasher film final act. It’s carrying the themes of the whole movie into a more human-scale climax.

Anyway, still really enjoyed the pod and the perspectives, there were just a couple of weird kneejerk reactions I would question.

Also baffling hearing Patrick saying we should have been shown more of “The Monster” if it wanted to be scary which just seems totally counter to so much horror thought. Y’all have to have seen the Alien suit in production shots, right? Thing looks mad goofy.

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I’ve probably plugged this series here a dozen times, but I’m gonna do it again: a fantastic look at Sunshine from Movies with Mikey. As is often the case, his perspective gets me as choked up as the movie itself.

Even if you aren’t interested in the analysis, he has a two minute montage at around 4:45 where he illustrates the “buttshit insane” cinematography with the “majesty” of the score and it’s simply amazing. God damn, this movie.

I think this is true, but only halfway there. It doesn’t just bring the themes to human scale, it shows that they’ve always been human scale. It’s not a question of can humankind save God, it’s a question of whether humankind can save itself, and whether it actually wants to.

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