Belated Movie Reviews: Did Ron Silliman Already Say This, I Feel Like He Probably Did

Sunshine (2007) – As a 2001 for the actual twenty-first century, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is quicker, slicker, and shallower than its ancestor—but then how could it not be? Stylish to a fault, the film features a cast of inexplicably young and hot space travelers headed by Cillian Murphy, who’s apparently become one of the world’s elite physicist and an astronaut at an age when most people would be lucky to have finished their PhDs. But whatever—the cast is hot, and Murphy is perfectly sinuous and watery in the role, and whatever the movie lacks in intellectual depth it more than makes up in an overwhelming sense of physicality.

The real subject of the film is mortality—its inevitability and its shockingness—and for that purpose seeing the young and vital bite it is much more powerful anyway. The film’s freshness comes from establishing a scenario in which the characters’ deaths are inevitable, their lives expendable, and then, unlike so much recent sci-fi adventure, not flinching from that setup. As every character’s death becomes more and more of a foregone conclusion, the stakes become how they will die—heroically or indignantly or in horrible suffering or, usually, in ways that combine two or three of those things at once. Characters are incinerated by the sun and frozen in the vacuum of space, they are slashed and impaled and crushed, they face asphyxiation and hypothermia and insanity, and they do it all 93 million miles away from a home that’s a dying planet anyway, while orbiting an impossibly giant ball of fusioning hellscape.

Every death is inevitable; most fiction lets us forget that by providing an arbitrary end point beyond which a character need only survive in order essentially to live forever. Aside from being simply thrilling and beautiful to look at, Sunshine gets its power by reminding us of that fact. You walk away from the movie with a sense of your own mortality that’s not only heightened but also elaborated, a consciousness of the infinite possibilities for extravagant suffering and irreparable harm that lurk just beyond the safety caps of our everyday existence, and that are bound to be visited on all of us sooner or later. But you walk away, too, with a deepened sense of what it might mean to give meaning to that death—that the ultimate act of sacrifice can’t be to give up one’s life so that someone else can live, because everyone dies and, as Derrida (roughly) said, no one can die in my place. Rather, the ultimate reality of heroism—if that means anything—is to suffer, to suffer greatly and potentially without limit, for the sake of a good that you yourself will never see.