Over the years, less and less people have been asking me The Question. “Rachel, what’s your favorite movie?” I’m sure it’s because word’s gotten around about how difficult The Question is for film majors to choose just one, but I guess it’s also because I stopped answering with my actual favorite film. It is true that I’ve always found answering The Question difficult, but it’s more so because my favorite film, Sunshine (2007) is not your usual answer. I get strange looks, even from my fellow film-majors, because who doesn’t answer with the expected, Citizen Kane, or War-Kong Wai’s In the Mood for Love? And absolutely no one, not even my closest friends, had seen Sunshine before I made them watch it. So even if I do answer the question truthfully, I get a second question-- Well what is it about? And quite simply, I can never do the movie justice.
I first watched Sunshine my senior year in highschool. I was in the Advanced Creative writing class and for the last unit, my teacher decided to introduce us to writing for Film. He showed us a number of greats, Fargo and No Country for Old Men, just to name a few, but the last film we watched was Sunshine. Though I don’t remember what my final script project was for the class, I remember every moment of watching that movie. It was raining outside, so the room was dark and cozy like a movie theater. Some of my classmates were doing homework, but others, like me, settled in our seats as our professor introduced the film.
“This is a movie,” He said. “Watch it.”
The film begins with a basic premise: In the year 2057, our sun is dying. The earth, due to the lack of heat, has frozen over into a second ice age, and humanity is slowly succumbing to it. A team of scientists embark on a mission, the second of its kind, to place a nuclear bomb in the center of the sun in order to jump start it. Simple right? Basic sci-fi premise, apocalypse scenario. You’ve probably heard a similar story a thousand times. The beginning of the film is likewise standard, with the crewmembers of the Icarus II, their gigantic, sun-reflecting spaceship, discussing the importance of their mission, and how they can succeed when the previous mission, Icarus I, failed. The previous mission had lost contact with earth seven years prior, and the fate of the crew is unknown-- but the sun was still dying, so Earth knew that Icarus I had failed.
Everything goes well for a time in the Icarus II. The crew have a fully functioning bio-center which produces the oxygen needed for their long journey to the sun, they have plenty of food, and for the most part, the crew gets along with one another. When they happen upon the floating corpse of the Icarus I, however, everything goes downhill, fast. I held my breath as they chose to explore the abandoned ship-- partly because of the suspense, and partly because of the immense amount of white, floating dust present on every surface. I wondered what could have caused this dust to aggregate on an empty space ship if all the crew were dead… and then the realization hit me. It was the crew.
A lot of the film is like this. It twists and winds along unknown paths, but you feel led to every development through subtle clues. It shocks you with realizations that you knew deep down, but didn’t want to admit to yourself. A big part of the film is surprisingly focused around religion-- or more specifically the question of humanity's place in the universe. The theme of dust makes this particularly evangelical, as one of the characters states, “At the end of time, a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here... but stardust.” Sounds familiar, right? Along the lines of “For you are dust, And to dust you shall return,” from the Bible. Now I’m not saying that Sunshine is the most original movie, but it’s certainly effective.
One of my favorite parts of the film does appear until nearly the end. The “monster” or “alien” that infects the spaceship in fact, is never clearly seen. Though I won’t spoil exactly what this monster is, he is shown as being a liminal creature, never quite existing in the physical world, but certainly physical enough to start picking off the crew members one by one. The way the camera moves around him is both terrifying and unique, with a lens-baby like wetness that makes it feel as if you are in a nightmare, unable to open your eyes fully. Though much of the film is filled with beautiful, wide-landscaped shots of the Icarus I and space, it is these close, intimate, and disturbing close-calls with this monster that truly make the film different from any other sci-fi flick.
So why is Sunshine my favorite? Well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s one of the reasons I became interested in film in the first place. In the rainy-darkness of that classroom in highschool, I watched a film that incorporated both a mind-blowing story, with incredible visuals, and a monster that you don’t even have to see to be afraid of.
After watching this film a hundred times, of course I saw it flaws-- but every film student finds flaws in film, even their favorite ones, and still loves them all the same. Though Sunshine has a 76% on rotten tomatoes, and all my film friends give me funny looks when I mention it, this movie will always have a special place in my heart. So don’t be afraid to like horrible movies. If you love it, go ahead and love it, and say proudly it’s your favorite. Because loving a horrible movie doesn’t mean you have bad taste in film, it just means you love it’s flaws just as much as you love what is good about it…and you learn from that. So love your film’s flaws. Love it’s cheesy one-liners and predictable plot, and never worry about answering The Question ever again.
And it might just make you love film more.