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Rising sun

Movies | Scenic but intense, Sunshine offers viewers unpredictable turns

Issue: "Effective Compassion," Sept. 1, 2007

In many ways, Sunshine is a throwback. The first half is '70s-style contemplative sci-fi to its core, heavily indebted to Ray Bradbury's marvelous short story "The Golden Apples of the Sun"-but much improved by computer effects that enable breathtaking shots of unearthly vistas like the craterscapes on Mercury and the hypnotic, fluctuating surface of the sun.

Sunshine is the story of a crew of astronauts on their way to drop a nuclear bomb into the sun in order to rejuvenate the old fellow. The beauty of creation is on full display here, but viewers ready to relax for a couple of hours of scenery would do well to remember that Danny Boyle's last big hit was the tense, bloody zombie movie 28 Days Later.

Boyle's greatest strength may be that viewers genuinely don't know what's going to happen next in his and frequent screenwriter Alex Garland's films. Early on, Capa (Cillian Murphy) gets into a fistfight with crewmate Mace (Chris Evans), and it's hard not to think that Mace's violent personality will cause trouble in the future. But Mace is obsessed with justice and equity, and his mania for fairness will come in handy.

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Boyle has loved mixing genres in past films, and he stays true to form here, which is sort of a shame. About halfway through Sunshine, he abruptly brings in a subplot that turns large chunks of the film into an awfully gory monster movie (the film has earned its R rating before then, though-there are plenty of gut-wrenching outer-space accidents).

The film's proportions are self-consciously mythic (the spaceship is called the Icarus II). Faced with an unbearable awe of the sun, the film's readiest metaphor for God, the villain Pinbacker (Mark Strong) goes mad, uttering worried philosophies with every breath.

At the end of time, he posits to Capa, one man will be alone with God. He pauses, then asks eagerly, "Am I that man?" Even at the end of his tether, Pinbacker desires to be with God-a desire that seems to well up in everyone in this film.

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