I Found Him In The Sunshine
“Who knows what the Sun does to people and how they react when they get close to it? The word ‘lunacy’ comes from supposedly having mental illness in reaction to the lunar light. One might come up with ‘solacy’ for the Sun.”- Nick Kanas, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco specialising in the psychosocial factors affecting astronauts and cosmonauts in space.
When I started working on the new film written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle, just over 18 months ago, I had no idea my life and my mind would be consumed by the Sun. Making ‘Sunshine’ has taken its toll. The shoot itself wasn’t overly difficult. I don’t remember one instance of anyone losing their cool. There were no screaming rows. No temper tantrums. It all went fairly smoothly as these things go. In short, it was no ‘Hearts of Darkness’. But it had a profound effect. On everyone.
It started subtly. It crept up on you. Like all madness does. A photo of the Sun as a computer desktop. An iTunes playlist of tracks containing the word ‘Sun’. A scale model of the Solar System running down the hallway at 3 Mills Studios. A book about the science of the Sun. Another on the mythology of the Sun. Taking photos of the Sun. Studying the Solar wind. Paying attention to Sunspot activity. Acknowledging the solstices and equinoxes. Talking about the Sun. Thinking about the Sun. Dreaming about the Sun. Choosing to always capitalise the word ‘Sun’ from now on. Just like It’s a deity. Believing that the Sun is yours and yours alone. You own the Sun now.
It’s not your Sun… It’s mine.
“If I ever go back into space, it’ll only be my ashes that are going. I’ll never do another film there again.”- director, Danny Boyle.
When the film starts, you join the crew 16 months into their mission to deliver a payload into the failing Sun. They are our heroes, the world’s top scientists and astronauts, off to save mankind (and so on). In the movies, they’d be strong, healthy, cocky and never have a hair out of place. In reality, our crew are dishevelled, bored, irritable, tired and depressed. They are suffering deeply from what the Russian Space Agency recognises as an inevitable side effect of long-term space travel, ‘asthenisia’, which exhibits itself from 6 weeks into a mission as emotional instability, impatience, fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, negative emotional reactions, apathy. Cassie reads the same book over and over. Corazon spends all her time with her plants instead of people. Kaneda obsessively watches video reports from the previous, failed, mission. Harvey constantly listens for patterns in the Solar wind. Mace, Capa and Trey have let themselves go. Searle can’t pull himself away from looking at, staring at, the Sun.
His Sun, not mine.
“All the necessary conditions to perpetrate a murder are met by locking two men in a cabin of 18 by 20 feet . . . for two months.”- Russian cosmonaut, Valery Ryumin.
There’s something about Danny Boyle that compels you to give your whole life up to him. When talking to you, he makes you feel like you’re the most important person in the world to him… and, to be honest, if he’s talking to you, you are. He looks you straight in the eye, stares at you sometimes, so that you feel he’s seeing something inside you don’t want him to see. He expects you to give it to him. And, for some reason, you do. You want to give everything to him. He’d make a great cult leader.
Alex Garland elicits a difference response altogether. Fifteen minutes talking with him takes you to the end of the Universe. Thirty minutes guarantees you will never come back. Forty-five minutes and your fear has disappeared. An hour and you don’t miss that silly thing you used to have. You know, that ridiculous, useless, little thing? I’ve forgotten its name. What was it called again? Oh yeah.
This combination of apocalyptic reverie and enticing charm is evident in every frame of the film. You can see Alex’s end of the Universe reflected in the actors’ eyes. You can see the souls of the entire crew given- sacrificed- willingly for Danny. Like the Norse god Odin, the father of the gods, who sacrificed one of his eyes to acquire knowledge, his remaining eye becoming the Sun, the whole cast and crew of ‘Sunshine’ gave away an important part of themselves and in return not only saw the light, but created it.
The Sun is the source of all life in our solar system. Without it, we die. It is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. The creator and the destroyer. It embodies all of our dreams; its absence is the stuff of nightmares. “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” In the film, the Sun is failing. It doesn’t take a genius to see the metaphor: God is failing. We are His only hope. What hubris.
“Our problem is that, in an entirely meaningless universe, our lives are entirely meaningful.” – writer, Alex Garland.
‘Sunshine’ is a meditation on the eventual, inevitable end. Of you. Of me. Of us all. We know our parents will one day die. We know that we will one day die. We know our children will one day die. This knowledge is what makes the comfort of religion and resurrection in Heaven such an appealing notion to some. ‘Sunshine’ takes ‘the end’ a step further. The eventual death of Mankind. One day there will be only one man left, alone with God. When he is gone, we are gone. All our hopes, all our dreams, will once again become stardust. There will be no record of our existence at all. There will be no one left to listen to our music, to watch our films, to read our books and our musings about music, films and books in Saturday supplements. When the last man is gone, God is gone.
Not your God, mine.