Sunshine and Moon

Over the weekend, I saw two British science fiction films for the first time: Sunshine, directed by (the now Oscar-winning) Danny Boyle and Moon, directed by Duncan Jones.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to see Sunshine. It’s been out on DVD for ever: my copy was bought a while ago on impulse in one of those 3-for-2 deals from HMV or somesuch, and has lain in the original cellophane ever since.

That’s changed now, of course. And in a way it was the ideal weekend to watch it, as it provides a great counterpoint to Moon, which by some miracle actually made it to my local multiplex this week.

Both films wear their visual inspirations on their sleeves – Sunshine’s Icarus II has many echoes of Alien’s Nostromo, while Moon takes obvious cues from the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey. But, as with the best SF, it’s the human interactions that make the pieces work, and in both films the themes are simultaneously huge and intimate, both contemporary and eternal.

Sunshine asks us to consider the boundaries between the science of physics and the faith of spirituality as somewhat more blurred than we usually accept. For Moon, it’s a consideration of what makes us the person we are. I really don’t want to go into too much detail on either, as you really do need to go into both films without any forewarning of what’s to come.

Of the two, though, I think I prefer Moon. Sunshine, for me, veers from a claustrophobic character study to a more traditional action film — albeit one with a remarkable camera effect that emphasises the philosophical aspect of the film — while Moon retains its sense of creeping unease throughout, building the tension until the very end. Sam Rockwell gives the sort of performance that, if it were in a non-genre based drama, would be a shoo-in for awards.

Both films have faults — including liberal artistic licence with the laws of physics — but as examples of thought-provoking SF, they’re right up there.