A brief Valentine’s Day letter to a film that has received far less love than it deserves, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine (2007) – published early to keep the day for my long-suffering better half 😉
I am writing to you on Valentine’s Day to express my total dedication to your radiant power, and to let you know that I will never succumb to the seemingly endless pressure placed upon me to abandon you and deny your qualities.
Your parentage, in so far as it can be said that you have parents, is probably most accurately attributable to Danny Boyle (from whom you got your good looks, energetic pace and emotive impact) and Alex Garland (from whom you got your quick wit and social conscience). I do hope that, wherever they are today, they are proud of what you have become – especially given the harsh criticism to which you have been subjected.
You are, of course, descended from a long and honourable line of science fiction masterworks dedicated to the questioning, illuminating and celebrating of the universe and man’s place within it. From Lang’s Metropolis to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Tarkovsky’s Solaris, to Scott’s Blade Runner… the torch has been passed down through the generations. But these ancestors have been accepted into the canon, where as you have not. Why is this?
Many varied criticisms have been made of you, some of which are at least understandable, while others seem totally disconnected from the film I know and love. Of course the largest, and perhaps the most popular of these stems from the shift within your third act. I shan’t go into detail here; it’s not my place to rob future viewers of the joy of seeing you for the first time. But I will say that many have perceived a shift in the last portion of your tale that seems incongruent and perhaps not in keeping with your first two acts. To this I would simply say that, by taking the almost religious solar awe demonstrated by some characters in your earliest stages, and displaying the logical conclusion of indulging this fixation, you have managed to create a beautiful and multi-layered allusion to humanity’s inability to appreciate their insignificance with respect to the universe; their desire to construct spiritual meanings that allow them to conceal said insignificance; and ultimately their desire to take upon themselves the absolute and awesome power which they have beheld in nature but which will always lie beyond their grasp. In other words, where some see a facile Hollywood descent into genre cop-out, I see a flawless and complex mirror held up to the human race.
There are so many moments at which you seem to attain a kind of perfection of expression, embedding within a single insignificant moment massive truths about what it is to be alive in the universe. I shan’t go on about these too much; you are totally familiar with your own composition after all. But there is one moment when a single misstep has the potential to jeopardise not just the future, but also to turn human history into dust. This is never said, never spoken – it is simply true. The moment is so typical of you – you’re so often composed of asides that are easily missed by those simply in search of a plot to follow.
And that is what you are, Sunshine. Simply a kind of human truth, somehow contained within the confines of a mere genre picture – more than the sum of its parts. No doubt you will eventually make it into the canon and take your place among the greats. And if you don’t, the failing will lie with us rather than you.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Sunshine.