The sun is dying. A rocket ship from earth, meaningfully named “Icarus,” failed in its mission to reboot the sun with a supercharged nuclear payload designed to “create a star within a star.” Now the earth’s last chance is Icarus II. If they do not deliver the payload, the sun and all of its planets will die.
But this is not the usual “and then something goes wrong” or “and then an alien leaps out of a crew member’s chest” space opera. This is a meticulously constructed story that presents its characters with a series of exponentially more complex moral and practical dilemmas as gripping as the perilous situations that threaten the mission.
Director Danny Boyle transcends genre. His films have ranged from horror (28 Days Later) to thrillers (Shallow Grave) to charming family fantasy (Millions). But all of his films focus on moral choices. In 28 Days Later, he showed us a world infested with enraged zombies where it is the uninfected humans who are the scariest predators. In both Shallow Grave and Millions, characters discover the corrosive effect of stolen money. Boyle likes to make us think about what we would do to survive, how far we would go to get something we wanted.
The crew of Icarus II has just passed the point where communication with earth has been cut off. They are alone, a community unto themselves, and they must struggle with the remnants of the priorities and procedures they have been given as they are confronted with increasingly dire circumstances and increasingly conflicted priorities.
Should they change their course to try to save anyone who might still be there? No, that would interfere with their mission. But what if it might increase the chance of completing the mission? And what if things change and it is essential for completing the mission?
And what if there is not enough oxygen for everyone? How do we decide who gets to live? By assigning blame? By rank? By who is most important for completion of the mission? And, at the end of these judgments, who are we? How do they change us?
Boyle and his able cast create an atmosphere of conviction and sincerity that makes us invest in the answers to these questions, and the debates as gripping as the action scenes.
Parents should know that this is an intense and disturbing movie, with extreme peril, some jump-out-at-you shocks, and some graphic violence. Characters are injured and killed and there is a suicide. One of the strengths of the movie is the way it presents moral issues in a provocative manner, and that may be disturbing for some audience members. Another strength of the movie is its portrayal of diverse characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the characters evaluated their choices. What were their priorities? When they disagreed, what were the determining factors? Authors often use science fiction and the device of putting diverse characters in an environment that is cut off from everyone else to highlight particular controversies. How would this story have been different if it took place today, in the US?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Silent Running, Apollo 13, and 2001 – A Space Odyssey. Books like Tragic Choices and The Problems of Jurisprudence consider ways to evaluate options in a legal, economic, and public policy framework and of course many books consider moral, ethical, and spiritual approaches to these issues as well.