Sunshine (2007) Review: Integrating Science and Religion
Sunshine (2007) is available for streaming on YouTube and Google Play.
Since the beginning of time, humanity has looked to the stars to please its existential angst and to look for solutions to life’s unanswerable questions. This quest first manifested itself with theories deep within the realm of the supernatural and religious. But, as time has progressed and technology has developed, these theories have shifted to more evidence-based and scientific viewpoints. This shift is not clear cut through and has brought with it an endless raging debate about the relationship between religion and science.
This, in part, begins to explain our collective fascination with science-fiction films. In many ways, futurist fiction occupies the best of both worlds. It is a genre which is capable of providing explanations to the biggest mysteries of the universe. Doing so through the lens of the quintessential human experience. This is Sunshine’s greatest achievement – an unparalleled ability to pose complex philosophical and religious questions against the backdrop of humanity’s moral choices and desire to survive at all costs.
The film, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, follows the 8-strong crew of the spaceship Icarus II on an international mission to deliver a nuclear bomb to reignite the dying Sun and prevent extinction-level freezing of Earth.
One of the film’s most defining themes is the collaboration which runs like a thread throughout the entire production. The film assembled international actors including Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Michelle Yeoh. This was a calculated choice made with the film’s key themes in mind.
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This continued throughout production with Boyle utilizing aspects of method acting to ensure the cast understood the pressures of being confined together for such a long time which produced an enhanced level of depth in the characters and emotional resonance in their relationships.
This level of detail is also clear in both the scientific accuracy of the film and the scale of its visual effects. During production, Boyle enlisted the help of Brian Cox, a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, to act as a scientific advisor and give regular solar physics lectures to the film’s cast. For the film’s visual effects, Boyle chose to go against traditional industry practice by hiring a single studio to work on all 750 of the film’s effect. Whilst this did lead to post-production lasting over a year, it allowed Boyle greater creative control and contributed to the phenomenal beauty of the film’s visuals.
As with many seminal science-fiction films, the visuals, here, are only as impressive as the accompanying score. As a matter of fact, the musical score of Sunshine is spellbinding. Produced as a collaboration between veteran composer John Murphy and electronic music duo Underworld, the score perfectly augments the film’s visuals and elevates the entire film to another plane of cinematic excellence.
The combination of Murphy’s swelling orchestral background and Underworld’s synth flourishes provides an almost child-like sense of wonder to the mesmerizing expanse of space and the gorgeous light-drenched shots of the Sun.
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Although alone these aspects already begin to prove the film’s brilliance, they are only enhanced further when you consider them against the backdrop of Sunshine’s loving tribute to science-fiction cinema. Whether it is drawing claustrophobic inspiration from Ridley Scott’s Alien or utilizing the disturbing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it jump scares from Paul W. S. Anderson’s Event Horizon, the film feels like a potted history of the entire genre. The film also owes a great debt of gratitude to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with which it shares many debated philosophical and religious ideas.
Sunshine (2007) presents profound ideas and Garland has managed to integrate complex ideas about the conflict between science and religion with a moving story about humanity’s resilience. The entire debate is framed between the ship and its crew acting as the scientific side and the unexplored Sun itself acting as a religious figure.
This plays into perhaps the film’s most interesting character – its antagonist. Whilst the character isn’t introduced until deep within the third act, they serve as the personification of religious fundamentalism in direct conflict with scientific consensus and become the catalyst for what is one of the film’s most visually stunning and emotionally powerful endings.
It may be a cliché to describe watching Sunshine as a religious experience, but there is no other way to talk about the striking piece of film making it is. Every aspect from its visuals to its score are an absolute treat from start to finish. Sunshine is a gem within the rich cinematic history of Science Fiction. It deserves a place alongside its pioneering forefathers.