“Seeing the Light”

The story goes that Icarus , along with his father, Daedalus, sought escape from a tower. Daedalus made the two of them wings to fly to their freedom, however, Icarus, in his excitement, flew too close to the sun which melted the wax that held his wings together and he plummeted to his death. Icarus (voiced by Chipo Chung), also the name of the central computer of the spacecraft, has shades of HAL, but 2001 was not the only movie ghost recalled while watching Sunshine, the latest from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland, the creative team from 28 Days Later. From Alien to, yes, even Event Horizon, all manner of space thriller have echoes in this film.

Sunshine is essentially the tale of 8 people, the crew of the Icarus II, on the back of a bomb, Lifeboat in space, a last ditch effort to save our dying sun in the future. The movie plays with your eyes and heads, flashing images like they were burned into our corneas after staring into the sun too long. The heart of the terror in the movie lies in how it makes even the simplest looking acts, from space walks to the slightest change in a flight trajectory, bubble with shadows of dread.

If you kept waiting for that “cowboy up” moment, you know, a Bruce Willis in Armageddon type moment, this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s an existential horror flick, a meditation on man’s place in the cosmos, before God.

“The point about darkness is you float in it … Darkness is the absence of something … Light envelopes you. It becomes you.” –Searle (Cliff Curtis)

The central figure of the movie is the image that stuck with me: the sun. Constant, taken for granted, we always look to it for life. We can get overwhelmed by the purity of its light and so invigorated that we lose ourselves in it.

It seems strange then to find such terror in it. How our experiences with the sun involve such a sense of mystery, an … otherliness to the entire experience. How such fear can be generated from something which provides warmth and life.

“All our science all our hopes, all our dreams are foolish. In light of this, we are all dust. When He chooses for us to die, it is not our place to challenge God.” –Captain Pinbacker (Mark Strong)

The story goes that through one man, Adam, sin, and thus death, entered the world. The light of God, personal communion with Him, wasn’t enough and Adam strove to become like God in his own eyes. In Sunshine, again death comes through one man, Captain Pinbacker, ready to lead all of humanity to death.

We often sense, if not experience, and existential terror, a gnawing emptiness that claws at our souls. A darkness, the deep, that threatens to suck the joy for all aspects of our lives, that can lead to a spiraling sourness to life that makes us want to crawl into bed and never get out. Pinbacker and his crew had strayed so far from what they were intended to do that it led Mace (Chris Evans of The Fantastic Four) to question “What are you trying to remind us of? Our lost humanity?”

“I hope you’re proud of your son. Savior of mankind.” –Capa (Cillian Murphy)

That same story continues that just as death came through one man, life, too, came through one man, Christ; or in Sunshine’s case, Capa. Despite the light seeming to fail and people taking things into their own hands, all their efforts are thwarted by the plan, the will, of the sun. So that even when the sun seems to die, it comes back, a new life coming from a dying one.

“We should never have gone off mission.” –Mace

It also follows that life revolves around the sun and its light, such that we should live in the light of the sun, “establishing new alignment to the sun.” as Icarus puts it. We’re forced to examine what it means to move in orbit with the sun, how our priorities might change, and we may desire to want to know the light, want to experience the light more – creating a mission in light of this. And like the crew manning Icarus II, the thing about the mission is that all you have to do to know if it succeeds is to look up, look around, and see a little more brightness in a dark world.

The story goes that Moses wanted to know God more intimately and asked to see His glory. The Lord protected Moses from seeing Him directly, but allowed him to catch a glimpse of his glory in passing. Such was Moses’ experience that when he came down from Mt. Sinai from communing with God, his face still glowed.

Sunshine is an intense, taut sci-fi/horror thriller, a thinking person’s movie. Claustrophobic feel, yet packing a lot into the ship’s cramped confines. The monster and hero are both the sun, though it leaves plenty of room for villainy of our own making. The deaths are truly chilling (sometimes literally) and stick with you in powerful ways. It’s a brooding journey that pays off in a massive way. Sunshine does for sci-fi/horror what 28 Days Later did for zombies: trades on the familiar to breathe new life into the genre. So let the sun shine in.

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