The Dividing Third Act

Sunshine

 

Tea: Sunlight caught in pure crystal water

 

It may be a rather old movie, but I recently watched Sunshine for the first time. It should be noted beforehand that I did not know anything about the absolute shitstorm surrounding the third act of this movie. That being said, I went in completely blank and can give you my untainted opinion, only tainted by the ever obscuring ink in the clear water of criticism that is my subjective opinion.

Sunshine shows a glimpse into the future when our sun has nearly burned out and is on the verge of dying. After a failed first mission to restart that big ball of gas a second mission under the name of Icarus II is sent out with a humongous bomb to detonate the light ball back into the world of the living. On board is a cast of racially diverse experts in all manner of fields. But the mission takes a detour when the team discovers the distress signal of the first team, the Icarus I, who were thought long dead. With the opportunity of having two bombs and therefore two chances of restarting the damn thing, the team takes the risk and changes their course. Shortly after, the wish they hadn’t.

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– Be right back: Have to explode the sun back into existence –

Sunshine is directed by Danny Boyle whom I always regard as a great director, since he often makes unconventional, but artistically useful choices. And the same goes for this movie, except the choice he made in this one did not go so well with a large percentage of viewers, but we will get to that later. First: the actors. All of them are reasonably well-chosen, even if some do not put as much effort into their role as others. Stars (sun-pun) of the show are definitely Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans who both deliver good performances, although it must be said that their characters are not the most original, in fact 99% of them aren’t. The only character that seems somewhat interesting and remains sadly underdeveloped is the psychiatric advisor Searle. Who seems to have a strange affection for the sun, going so far as to slowly burn his skin, just to absorb more of her.

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– The wet dream of all tanning bed enthusiasts –

Visually the movie is a masterpiece. The shots in outer space are well-done and set up a great feeling of scale for both the space ship and the star (haha, okay done now) of it all: the sun. The big golden shield used by the crew is a great visual feast for any viewer and a beautiful set-piece for a dramatic scene. All of that is accompanied by a beautiful score by John Murphy. And while Adagio in D Minor has been used to death in trailers and other AMVs, it is used to great effect in this movie and sets a beautiful albeit be it melancholic tone for the scenes accompanying it.

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– Come on, the guy in the middle cannot possibly see what’s on that screen! –

The atmosphere is the highlight (‘light’ haha) in this movie and shines (haha, ok I am definitely done now) stronger than all the other parts. There is an absolutely creepy scene on board the Icarus I that I am not sure was intentional. In a Tyler Durden-fashion images flash across the screen and I was really freaked out. And all of that leads us to the shift in tone that most people despise so much. With that said, I am issuing a spoiler-warning now for the next two paragraphs. They will discuss the third act and if you only want a spoiler-free verdict at the end, skip to it now. Ready or not, here we go:

– Beware of Spoilers, they bite viciously –

People give this movie shit for turning into a slasher with the arrival of Pinbacker in the last act. They perceive this shift in tone as detrimental to the overall premise of the movie. Bringing a conflict that has the world at stake down to a religious fanatic slicing up the crew. I, personally, really liked it. First of all, the scene when it is revealed that another person is on the ship is incredibly well done and sets up such a strong tension I cannot help but love it. Pinbacker himself remains wrapped in mystery and it is never fully clear how he survived and why he distorts the image so much, but this is exactly what I like about him. He is an uncontrollable element in a Sci-Fi flick that is usually all about calculations and failure only comes in the form of wrong equations. It takes the human conflict from the beginning up a notch and paints it against the larger picture: A battle of belief vs knowledge. Religion vs science. Scientist vs prophet.

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– Here’s a spoiler-free sun –

Not only that, but it also shows us what could and probably would have happened if Searle didn’t have to stay behind. It almost seems as if the mission has a sort of cyclical determinism behind it. Roles that are always present and a mission that is always going to fail due to the same reason. And due to that, I am more than on board for the idea the last act is going for. It is a natural raising of the stakes and does not come out of nowhere, since the creepy atmosphere was always present before and now it just takes over. In addition, I enjoy movies that shift in tone (if that is believable of course) and don’t stay on course in a rigid fashion so they do not alienate the core viewer.

– Here the spoilers end, they have gone back to sleep now –

Sunshine is a great experience that, hopefully, will get better upon repeated viewing. Not that the first one isn’t enjoyable, but it certainly is a movie that demands another look. If you give this movie shit, do not do it for the third act, since that one is quite ingenious, but rather for the weak characters. That department certainly could have used some more work. If you come only for the Sci-Fi you might end up being a bit disappointed, but if you are looking for a good movie and are not afraid of a stark turn, then give Sunshine a watch and make up your own opinion about that oh-so controversial third act.

 

 

Image sources in order of appearance:

 

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4 thoughts on “The Dividing Third Act

  1. Watched it, liked it and although I can see your point concerning the last act, I find it somehow lacking. Still. Sorry. I won´t rant about it, of course, but I´d prefered a more psychological approach that concentrates merely on the characters (thereby giving them a bit more depth because they were indeed lacking).
    The Icarus I would be the perfect place to stage a space crime scene and as the protagonist begins to piece together more and more of what happened to the crew of the crashed ship, he realises that the same is threatening to happen again, only that he doesn´t know (yet) who will the reincarnation of Pinbacker. Perhaps it´s even him.
    I guess my biggest problem with the last act was just that it seemed so unlikely. Reminded me a bit of an uncreative Deus-ex-machina-approach. I mean, sure, it is science-fiction, but isn´t at the heart of it to make it credible nevertheless? Otherwise it´s just a lame excuse.
    The creepy scene with the flashes of the photographs of the other crew-members was really ingenious, although I have to admit that I thought the cutter had made a mistake, at first. It´s just the blink of an eye, barely visible, like: “Did you just see that?” “I´m not quite sure…” Creates a great atmosphere, loved it.
    All in all, I understand those who liked and also those who didn´t like the movie, in the end, as ever so often, it´s just about personal taste, I guess.

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    • But this is exactly the interesting part. If ‘their Pinbacker’ i.e. Searle was dead then nothing would threaten them, right? Wrong, the universe goes out of its way to still sabotage the mission in a, as you rightfully called it, Deus (or rather diablo) ex machina kind of way, simply because the mission mustn’t succeed and that is an interesting thought right there. But this doesn’t fix the somewhat stale characters, I can see that.

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      • According to this, you read the ultimate success of the Icarus II mission as a victory of mankind over the universe/destiny/God, whatever you want to call it? Interesting idea. Well, in a way, they really brought back a spark of life. Also interesting to consider here is the fact that it is a man and a woman who manage to save mankind (of course the man more than the woman but that´s not really surprising, is it?)
        Hey, btw: Do you know the game which asks you to look at a crew at the beginning of a movie like this and then you must place bets in which order the characters are going to die? This one wasn´t really much of a challenge.

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