In an average apocalyptic science fiction movie, the end of the world figures merely as a potential catastrophe to be averted, galvanizing intrepid heroes to rise to the challenge, facing nearly impossible odds, and ultimately saving the day just in the nick of time.
Danny Boyle's Sunshine—following last year's Children of Men, a similarly downbeat, stylish, middlebrow sci-fi film from a non-Hollywood director—is haunted by the shadow of the mortality not of each human being but of mankind as a whole. Here, the extinction of man looms not so much as a threat to be averted as an inevitable reality, possibly to be resisted, but ultimately to be accepted and lived with.
It may or may not happen tomorrow: An inexplicably barren world could at last produce a miracle child, and a desperate mission to jump-start a dying sun may or may not be successful. Yet an existential bleakness leaps beyond these vagaries to the final inevitability. In the end, the sun is as mortal as our race and our world. In that sense, there is no ultimate final "saving" of humanity, any more than a doctor or fireman decisively "saves" the life of one who will inexorably someday be a corpse. The sun will die, our world will die, our race will die, and everything that matters so intensely to us now will in a sense come to naught.
"At the end of time," a character muses in a critical scene, "a moment will come when just one man remains. Then the moment will pass … the man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here, but stardust … Last man alone with God. Am I that man?"
Writer Alex Garland, who wrote Sunshine both as a screenplay and a forthcoming novel (and who collaborated with Boyle on his last apocalyptic ...1