Friday, August 24, 2007
THE DARK SIDE OF "SUNSHINE"
It’s been a few weeks now since I went to Danny Boyle’s new film, Sunshine, but I have held off on writing about it because it pissed me off so badly that I felt I might unjustly savage it. The movie is not horrible. It is, indeed, rather beautiful and pretty intelligent. That’s what makes it so infuriating when the whole enterprise veers into misplaced genre theatrics and near unintelligibility.
Sunshine plays it totally classy for well over an hour. It’s full of grand shots filled with epic import, trying to do for the sun what 2001 did for deep space. The multicultural crew—played by a refreshingly starless cast including Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh and Troy Garity—go about the business of completing their mission in a mostly understated fashion and the first two acts play as hard sci-fi, the slightly futuristic astronauts logically dealing with problems based on the given physics of the world of the story. This despite the fact that the mission itself is pure Hollywood high concept action movie pitch, a twist on Armageddon: we have to blow up the sun to save the earth!
For a while, before its wrong turn into slasher-in-space territory, Sunshine utilizes a plot schema I’m rather fond of: the minor problem that just keeps getting worse, spiraling the characters off into unforeseen, life-threatening situations. Our astronauts are faced with a tough decision: stick to their mission or make a calculated improvisation with the possibility of glorious results. After the choice to alter their mission, a mistake is made, and damage is done to the ship. Each situation after this spark ups the ante more and more, raising the stakes higher and higher. I was excited, in the theater. I was looking over at my friend like “Holy shit what are they gonna do next?!”
You think it can’t get worse, and then it does. And at each juncture the characters are faced with interesting dilemmas, sometimes technical, others moral, and they solve them logically, working the problem out together. These scenes are fascinating, smart and exciting. Then, inexplicably, the whole thing degenerates into something resembling Event Horizon or Jason X, with maybe a little Cube 2: Hypercube thrown in—but not as interesting as any of them, even that Jason in space crap. (Seriously.) The monologues given by the baddie suddenly introduced near the end of this film are utterly laughable. They sound like outtakes from Hellraiser.
Sorry. I’ll stop now. That’s what I was afraid would happen if I started writing about this movie. Two weeks later and I’m still pissed off about it. After writing that first paragraph, though, I started thinking about Danny Boyle’s films and my relationship to them over the years. I, like everyone else, was totally blown away by Trainspotting. Of course, I was 15 at the time, but I was suitably impressed and looked into the filmography of the people behind it (having two years earlier, upon the advent of Pulp Fiction, become a film geek.) I found that these were the guys that had made Shallow Grave, which I had already seen and which introduced me to the phenomena I am going to right now invent the name of the Boyle Syndrome to describe.
The Boyle Syndrome (or B.S.) is basically this: the film draws you into a well-articulated world and makes you invest yourself in, if not the characters, then at least the resolution of the narrative. Then it totally abandons you in an abyss of unintelligible plot reversals and/or metaphysics. Shallow Grave starts out funny and charming, becomes increasingly intriguing and mysterious, then sorta less creepy then it seems to think it is, then is lost amid a rapid series of late-in-the-game plot twists. A Life Less Ordinary is one of those movies that I’m compelled to watch but after I put it on I’m not sure why. Especially near the end as the friggin’ awesome angels played by Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo and the somewhat less awesome characters played by Cameron Diaz and Ewan McGregor get entangled into a situation that makes so little sense it actually makes you have a little doubt in the main theme that love concurs all. The Beach is another movie beloved by me and not a lot of other people. I start to agree with the naysayers every time the climax comes and the novel’s 'we are all guilty', Lord of the Flies-style ending is swapped for turning Tilda Swinton’s character into a badguy and blaming her for everything, thus totally missing the point of the narrative.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised when Sunshine ended as it did. They had the chance to end the movie on a gorgeous, epic—though exceedingly downbeat—moment of grand failure, but Boyle and his creative team settled for slasher theatrics. This, however, will not deter me from seeing Sunshine again when it comes out on DVD. It brings up a bunch of interesting ideas about the engulfing power of the sun, how it nourishes us but could just as easily destroy us, through the character of the ship psychiatrist played by Cliff Curtis. Perhaps next time I see it I’ll write something more analytical and less pissed off about it.