Monday, 7 March 2011

Sunshine - Heart of Sol and the Soul

Passing through the portal of the Sun

The movie ‘Sunshine’ directed by Danny Boyle is another favorite of mine.  It’s a movie full of stunning imagery and Gnostic-inspired themes.  The movie follows the impossible quest of the crew of Icarus II, a spacecraft that is humanity’s last hope of reigniting a dying sun – by detonating an interstellar bomb within the heart of the star.   If they are unsuccessful, then all human life will eventually perish without the sun’s life-giving properties.  The stakes are about as high as you can get in this movie. 

The designer of the bomb is the brilliant physicist Robert Capa, played by the ethereal Cillian Murphy.  The name Robert is Old German and can be translated as ‘bright fame’, or ‘bright renown’.  And the word Cāpa is a Sanskrit term for an arc of a circle.  So Robert Capa means ‘bright renown of the circle’s arc’.

Capa is the brilliant intelligence/identity of the sun itself.  He is the only one who truly understands the quantum mechanics of the bomb’s design.  It’s interesting that Capa has very strange and intense blue eyes.  Like the actor who plays him, there is something otherworldly about Capa.  He’s an outsider even to the rest of his crew.   He develops a romantic relationship with fellow crewmember Cassie, whose name means ‘she who entangles men’ and is a diminutive of Cassandra. This makes the character resonant with the cursed prophetess of Greek mythology, Cassandra, who was blessed with psychic sight that no-one believed.

Danny Boyle’s screenplay is full of resonance and carefully-chosen associations.  We could argue in this film that God/Sol/Light itself is dying.  Since this blog explores themes through a Gnostic prism, I would suggest that Sunshine is in fact a Solar Messiah narrative very much in keeping with Dark City, discussed in an earlier post.  Like John Murdoch of Dark City, Robert Capa must face trials, tribulations and sinister Archons in order to fulfill his destiny and achieve his apotheosis.

The sinister Archon in this narrative is Pinbacker, the Captain of the doomed Icarus I played by Mark Strong.  After many years alone on the ghost-ship Icarus I, far too close to the massive gravitational field of the sun, Pinbacker has been alchemically transformed into an entity that is no longer completely human – or bound by space and time in the strictest sense.  Many scenes in the movie highlight the strange spatial-temporal distortions given off by his transformed biology.  He is the Archon who has spent several years “talking to God” (or the demiurge), and has apparently been told that none of humanity are fit to continue living.  He would rather the sun dies, and tells Capa that God told him to take them all to Heaven.
While many people apparently saw the Pinbacker character as a serious flaw in the movie, ruining the authentic sci-fi mood by turning it into a mystical horror flick, I personally was delighted by this character and found Pinbacker to be the most enjoyable part of a very enjoyable film.  He reminded me of the character of ‘Kurtz’ in Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (And to a lesser extent Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Apocalypse Now).  Pinbacker is the Archon of his own empty kingdom, and when others step into it he acts in the most relentlessly brutal fashion.   It is implied that he has seen “the horror”, much like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, and this has driven him insane.
This suggests, to me, that there are two faces of the sun – destroyer and creator.  Pinbacker looks and sees the sun’s destructive face, whilst Capa looks and beholds the face of the creator itself.

This is made incredibly explicit when Capa and Cassie ride the bomb down into the heart of the sun, along with the stowaway Pinbacker, and space-time starts to distort in powerful ways.  These distortions eventually allow Capa to stare into the face of creation itself, to commune with it and touch it when the sun bursts in to fill the bomb chamber, in a micro-moment that is distorted. For a holy moment Capa is not consumed by the sun, he is one with the sun.
Remember that Robert Capa means ‘bright renown of the circle’s arc’.  I’d wager that in this moment of enlightenment Capa realizes that he IS the sun.  He is within it, and it is within him.
To me, Pinbacker is the Archon who is determined not to let Capa come to this realization, but he ultimately fails.  Through Capa’s intelligence, intuition and hard work he essentially brings God back to life.  He becomes God, and it is then Capa’s light we see shining down on his sister back on Earth in the epilogue.
He is the Gnostic Solar Messiah who transcends the illusion of space and time, exactly as John Murdoch does in Dark City.  I’d also wager that the entire narrative of Sunshine is a mystery-play that takes place entirely within the imaginal realm of Capa’s psyche.  Each character is an aspect of himself.   It’s a journey to the Heart of the Soul, not just the Heart of Sol.   

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