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"Our sun is dying. Mankind faces extinction. Seven years ago the Icarus project sent a mission to restart the sun but that mission was lost before it reached the star. Sixteen months ago, I, Robert Capa, and a crew of seven left earth frozen in a solar winter. Our payload: a stellar bomb with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island. Our purpose: to create a star within a star. Eight astronauts strapped to the back of a bomb. My bomb. Welcome to the Icarus Two."—Robert Capa, physicist.
Sunshine is a psychological thriller disguised as a bog-standard sci-fi disaster movie. Often overlooked due to its somewhat nonsensical premise, which sounds like The Core but in THE SUN, the film is actually a slow, melancholic character study, somewhat philosophical in tone, though never fauxlosophic.
It is a beautiful example of science fiction as originally defined: the human spirit meeting the challenges of nature by embracing technology and reason. The major themes in the film are science vs. fundamentalism, isolation vs. community, and the human response to imminent extinction.
Directed by the guy who would later direct Slumdog Millionaire, and had earlier directed 28 Days Later and Trainspotting, Sunshine is an example of Better Than It Sounds. Similar in tone (though, luckily, not pacing) to Solaris, only the premise seems to turn more people off from watching it--keeping it to an almost cult-classic status.
The first half of the film is essentially character introspection. The second half then switches rather abruptly into a space slasher film, while still maintaining its melancholy tone.
Tropes in this film:
- AI Is a Crapshoot: Averted. Icarus II's on-board computer is important to the film, yet does its job exactly as it's supposed to, responds properly to override commands, and trying to save it (as opposed to trying to stop it) is an important part of the film's climax.
- Ability Over Appearance: The character of Searle was originally written as a much older British man but Cliff Curtis (of Maori descent) gave the best audition.
- All There in the Manual: You'll need to go to the website to find out the characters' back-stories, how the bomb would work and even why the sun was dying in the the first place.
- Alone with the Psycho: Very well done.
(Capa is arguing with the computer as to why there is not enough oxygen left)
Capa: "There are only four crew members."
Computer: "Negative, five crew members."
- Apocalyptic Log: The crew find one made by Pinbacker, the commander of Icarus I.
- Arc Words: "We are dust."
- Badass Beard: Kaneda sports one.
- Bait and Switch: The opening shot of the Sun which turns out to be the Sun reflected in the Icarus II heat shield.
- Bald of Evil: Pinbacker, now that his hairline has been seared away.
- Barrier-Busting Blow: Cassie is hiding from Pinbacker when the ship's lights suddenly come on. Pinbacker's hand immediately smashes through the glass to grab Trey's dead body, giving Cassie a chance to stab Pinbacker before he realises his mistake.
- Beard of Sorrow / Important Haircut: Mace has a stubbly beard and unkempt hair, showing that he's suffering from lowered morale. When he finally gets control of himself, he shows up clean-shaven, with a fresh buzzcut.
- Big Blackout: The lights go out when Icarus computer is shut down.
- Bittersweet Ending: And just short of Shoot the Shaggy Dog because Capa actually succeeded in detonating the bomb and restarting the Sun; however, all the events in the movie could have been avoided has they not deviated from their plan to retrieve the Icarus I's bomb as not only Icarus I's main computer was useless, and thus unable to be used, but in the end, it was not even needed. Had they all listened to Mace...
- Blood on These Hands: Mace's squicky gesture, emphasizing how he blames Capa for setting in motion the events which led to Trey's suicide.
- Bloody Handprint: These, and bloody footprints, are left behind by Pinbacker wherever he goes. Also a signal that he's already beaten Capa to the payload.
- Body Horror: Pinbacker's extreme exposure to the Sun has cooked his flesh. The burning is so bad that, during a fight scene, the skin on one of his arms is torn off.
- Cassandra Truth: Mace. He's not predicting the future, rather just a path of action the crew should take, and is dismissed most of the time. He's proven right through the movie.
- Chekhov's Gun: Mace drops the spanner in the coolant tank and freeze-burns his hand trying to get it out. The computer warns him that the mainframe panel can't stay out of the coolant for long.
- Cold Equation: Most crew members consistently do this given the circumstances, but Mace most notably. He states that they should not deviate from the original mission to attempt a rescue on the Icarus I, due to the risk involved. In fact, in just about every major decision from thereon after, he provides the most logical solution, and is always right.
- When four of the crewman are trapped on Icarus I and there's only one spacesuit, Mace and Searle immediately start putting Capa (the only man who can fire the bomb) into the suit, ignoring the protests of their commander. Mace though figures out how to Take a Third Option (though only he and Capa survive).
- Then the crew realise they only have enough oxygen to complete their mission if one of them dies. The suicidally depressed Trey is an obvious candidate to be killed, and all but one of the crew votes to do so. Although they'd previously decided they needed a unanimous vote, Mace goes to kill him anyway only to find he's already dead.
- Could Have Avoided This Plot: If only they had listened to Mace.
- David Versus Goliath: Capa versus Pinbacker.
- Deus Ex Nukina: Humanity constructs a really big nuke, in a desperate bid to, ahem, re-ignite the sun. Never mind that the sun creates the amount of energy generated by the bomb many times over every single second. Best to suspend your disbelief on this point.
- Dissonant Serenity: Pinbacker's log entry about a miniature meteor shower which almost barbecued his crew.
- Distress Call: The Icarus-1's distress beacon.
- Driven to Suicide:
- The entire Icarus-1 crew, from the looks of things.
- Trey is later found in this state, but it's been staged. Danny Boyle's commentary reveals that Pinbacker murdered Trey and made it look like a suicide. When Rose Byrne's character grabs a surgical knife later, one is already missing from the drawer.
- Dwindling Party: In order of death: Kaneda, Harvey, Searle, Trey, Corazon, Mace, and Cassie.
- Enforced Method Acting:
- The main eight actors were required to live in an apartment together for three months before filming (the actors unanimously say the worst cook of the bunch was Michelle Yeoh). Cillian Murphy's wife was pregnant during this time, so he would go back home at night. This proved helpful for his character being the youngest member and an outsider to the crew. The voice of the spaceship, Chipo Chung, was usually somewhere on the set and would be directly talking to other members of the cast, which is very appropriate for the character she's voicing.
- Also in the scene where Capa falls over in the very heavy gold spacesuit and struggles to get back up, unbeknownst to him several stage-hands held him down while he was inside the suit for the internal shots, in a attempt to make his struggling look more realistic.
- The End of the World as We Know It: The dying sun will end all live on Earth if it isn't averted.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Pinbacker.
- Exact Time to Failure: Decoupling and detonating the bomb before the Icarus reaches the sun.
- Expositron 9000: The Icarus computer... isn't one. An interesting aversion that forces the characters to make an ultimately bad call.
- Female Gaze: Capa getting into his spacesuit. It's a lot sexier than it sounds.
- Geek Physiques: Capa.
- Gory Discretion Shot: The heavily burned Pinbacker appears only in blurred, distant or very brief shots. Later averted when skin is graphically torn from his arm.
- Ghost Ship: The Icarus 1
- Heroic Sacrifice: Plenty. Kaneda, then Searle, then not Harvey, then Mace, and finally Capa. It could be argued that the whole crew gets a credit for this trope. Once they realize there's hardly enough oxygen to get to the detonation point near the sun, let alone to make the trip back to Earth, they all accept rather gracefully that they will die to save the human race.
- Hollywood Science, but not to the extent of They Just Didn't Care, as they had a science advisor on staff in an attempt to make it seem remotely plausible. Danny Boyle intended to leave out things like visible stars, slow-motion zero gravity, and sound in space, but left them in because the movie just didn't feel right otherwise. The science is actually about fifty-fifty. The oxygen garden is a very likely component of long distance space travel. In an actual space ship, the crew would be able to hear the ship creaking from the inside, as they did in the movie. The "Dead Zone" around the sun is Truth in Television; recall that the primary effect of solar flares is to disrupt electronic communications like HAM and AM radios. The way that two crewmen escaped Icarus I without spacesuits is also scientifically plausible, though just as unlikely to work perfectly as it was in the movie. Also, try not to think about the effects of gravity in the climactic scene. It's a bit...wonky.
- In a scene that was left out of the movie, but can be seen in the DVD extras, Capa explains that the payload generates its own gravity. What was left in the movie was another scene in which Capa explains that the payload will move at such a speed in its final moments that close to the sun, that all physics in fact will get... wonky. Perhaps not enough info for it to be a Chekhov's Gun, but enough so that from the movie's perspective, it's not that unexpected.
- The science advisor, Professor Brian Cox - PhD, OBE, D:Ream - said that he would tell them how thing would really happen and where they were going wrong, but then it was up to Danny Boyle et al decide on it, and if the story was better off if they bent the real science, that's what they did. He considered that the right way to do it.
- Explaining why "visible stars a science fail" from above, because it's more a visual arts trope conflicting with science: the sun only looks like a flaming ball when viewed through special filters/computerized images. Depicting exterior shots with a sun like that is forgetting the fact that with all the visible light a star puts out at the local system range, you wouldn't see anything, you'd literally be blinded by all the light. This is depicted somewhat in-story when one of the crew members asks to have the viewport filters turned down by a small fraction and the room is almost completely washed out by all the extra light.
- Hope Sprouts Eternal: After the oxygen garden is destroyed, Corazon finds a growing sprout amid the wreckage. Subverted though in that she's murdered a few seconds later.
- Hot Scientist: Interesting example: Danny Boyle was originally reticent to have Cillian Murphy play Capa because he considered him to be "too good-looking" to be a scientist... until he met the movie's science advisor, who had a similar sense of style.
- Icarus Allusion: The spaceship designers don't believe in Tempting Fate, it seems.
- Infinite Supplies: Averted.
- Implacable Man: Pinbacker compensates for his slow gait through his intimate knowledge of Icarus-2's systems.
- In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: Averted.
- Kill'Em All: Only Capa (and maybe Pinbacker) is alive by the end credits, and probably won't be for very long.
- Latex Space Suit: Averted. It looks to be quite golden.
- Letting the Air Out of the Band: The Icarus computer can't talk properly if taken out of the coooolannnt....
- Let's Split Up, Gang!: "I don't think that's such a good idea."
- Light Is Not Good:
- The awesome sight of the sun drives several characters insane. Its rays burn flesh and threaten to torch the whole spaceship. Ironically, the story is about a dying sun and the Earth's desperate need to restore its life-supporting rays.
- We never get a good look at Pinbacker, partly due to the crew's dementia and also because of his portrayal as a 'being of light'.
- Literally Shattered Lives: Harvey's frozen corpse collides with Icarus-2's antenna, shattering his arm. The rest of him drifts into direct sunlight, whereupon it (Insert symbolism) crumbles to dust.
- Million-to-One Chance: The crew is perfectly aware that, once the Icarus reaches the Sun's horizon, everything about the mission goes into the realm of the theoretical. Not even the computer can calculate the outcome. It works, of course.
- Mood Whiplash: As good as the film is, it's notorious for how much its third act contrasts in mood and theme to the first two. If the first two acts are, say, Session 9, the third act is Hellraiser.
- Multinational Team: Based on ideas of the global community's space programs would be in 70 years, the Icarus mission is a mix of Americans, Chinese, and Japanese astronauts. The first Icarus ship had Pinbacker, who was apparently supposed to be South African (his accent is easier to place in his recording).
- Neck Lift: Pinbacker effortlessly hoists Capa and shakes him like a rag doll. Justified due to the comparatively low gravity of the payload room.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The film's tv ads pitched it as a horror film. In actual fact the horror element is something of a twist near the end of the film. When you go in expecting a horror you will end up waiting an hour for the plot to get going. And thus word of mouth deemed the film to suck.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Pinbacker.
Pinbacker: We are nothing... but dust.
- Only Sane Man: Mace. He may not be the most sensitive guy on the ship but everything he said was true and if they had all just listened to him from the beginning, they might have been okay.
- Opaque Lenses: Searle's aviator sunglasses, hinting at his increasingly-long periods of staring fixated at the sun.
- Pragmatic Villainy: The characters eventually resolve to resort to this in order to reserve the mission. They decide to kill their suicidal crewmate in order to leave enough oxygen to complete the mission. Capa puts it best, "What are you asking? That we weigh the life of one man versus the future of all mankind? Kill him." It's the fact the he says it so casually makes you go damn.
- Recycled Trailer Music : The trailer uses "Lux Aeterna" from Requiem for a Dream. Conversely, various trailers recycle "Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)", which also pulls duty as the Kick-Ass theme.
- Scenery Porn: The entire film just looks beautiful. And eye motifs.
- Science Hero: The entire Icarus crew, but especially Capa.
- Shiny-Looking Spaceships: Necessary due to the nature of the ship's sun shield.
- Shoot the Dog. Pretty much the whole litter.
- Shown Their Work: The film is very well-researched. Small details of every aspect of manned space travel (and the projected future of it) appear in the film, from the psychology of a crew living together to the science of astronauts growing their own food onboard a spaceflight.
- Skeleton Crew: Averted when Capa finds the crew of the Icarus I, huddled together and burned to a crisp in the observation room.
- Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Danny Boyle responded to criticism on the surreal nature of a burned Pinbacker appearing near the end by stating it was intentional; he did so to break away from the constant focus on realism in the first two acts.
- Snowy Screen of Death: On Kaneda's helmet camera.
- Solar CPR: The whole point of the mission.
- Somebody Else's Problem: Mace insists this, but it is justified considering the entire human race is depending on them; despite his persistence, however, everyone else votes there's always hope until it comes to deciding Trey's fate.
- Space Is Cold: Among the nail-biting uncertainties in an Improvised Microgravity Maneuvering scene. Another is that the four crew exploring the wreckage of Icarus I are aware: only three can attempt the jump back to Icarus II. They'll survive...if nothing goes wrong.
- Space Is Noisy: Applied.
- Space Madness: Developing in Searle and particularly evident in Pinbacker.
- Standard Snippet: The main theme, Sunshine (Adagio In D Minor) by John Murphy, is in danger of becoming this. It has been used in Kick-Ass as Hit-Girl's theme and the fifth episode of The Walking Dead.
- Starship Luxurious: NASA advisors to the movie spoke out in favor of this trope. The cost of roomy quarters, in terms of air and mass, would be more than balanced out by the benefits to a crew's sanity on a long mission. Besides, they were towing a bomb the size of Manhattan, so a little additional space would hardly be noticeable. As evidenced when they actually go into the part of the ship with the bomb inside, there's plenty of space around the bomb itself... and breathable air, too. Ultimately, the movie retained a submarine-ish feel, but toned it down.
- Stupid Good: Cassie.
- Talking Computer: The Icarus AI.
- Testosterone Poisoning: Cassie calls the captain to stop Capa and Mace fighting.
"We have an excess of manliness in the comm centre."
- Spoofed later when an attempt to renew their fight is cut short by Capa and Mace gasping for breath on their hands and knees; the women walk contemptuously past and tell them to conserve oxygen.
- Thrown Out the Airlock: Happens on three separate occasions.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Harvey misses the hole then freezes out there in seconds, his frozen corpse hitting an antenna, thus breaking his arm before flying outside the shield, reduced to dust in seconds by the Sun.
- Trailers Always Spoil: The last few minutes of the film are in it. Sure, they're out of context, but still...
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The premise might make a bit more sense with some of the background material that uses a real physics-based description (they weren't "restarting" the sun but destroying a particle chunk that was prematurely killing the sun), but there was no way to explain that without invoking this trope. So it was a kind of "screwed either way" situation.
- Wham! Line: "Negative, five crew members."
- What Did You Expect When You Named It??: Whose bright idea was it to name the ship going on a mission to the Sun on which the fate of Mankind depends the Icarus? (you know what happened to Icarus, right?) And worse, to stick with the name after losing that ship and naming the second one Icarus II? Danny Boyle apparently named it like that on purpose, to keep with the bleak nature of the film and the International aspect of the ship. According to him, "[Americans would] call it Spirit of Hope or Ship of Destiny. They'd call it something optimistic... in America they would sacrifice all plausibility, because there would be hope."
- What Is One Man's Life in Comparison?: The film arguably contains a number of examples, but in one instance a character comes close to saying this trope's name verbatim when the crew is deciding whether to kill an injured crewman in order to save oxygen.
- You Are in Command Now: Harvey is promoted to Captain following his predecessor's demise. Ironic, since he's the Communications officer on a ship with a useless communications array, leaving him the most expendable person on board.
- It doesn't last long, anyway, but it isn't entirely clear who takes over upon his death.
- Zero-G Spot: Word of God states that original scripts for Sunshine had a planned sex scene between Cassie and Capa. Oh, What Might Have Been...