Psychology in “Sunshine”

After watching the film “Sunshine,” I was astounded!  Finally, a non-corny Sci-fi movie with graphics that are semi-believable.  Not only do I think that the film’s visuals were legitimate, but the portrayal of the characters and inter-personal interactions on the Icarus II were excellently displayed.  From what I have seen in space films, often times the dialogue and character development are neglected and all that is left to admire are the special effects employed. While sometimes they are pretty awesome, it is nice to have something more to latch onto as a viewer.

By “something more,” I mean the human quality of the people aboard the spaceship.  The movie illustrates the effects of being in an enclosed space, with the same people, isolated from Earth, for 18 months.  Additionally, the urgency of the situation and pressure that the astronauts face—successfully launching the Payload to reignite the Sun so that all life on Earth does not disappear—increases the psychological impact that the situation has on the astronauts.  For example, early on in the movie, the viewer can tell that there is tension between Capa and Mace, and then their conflict escalates to a physical fight between the two.  (It also happens later in the movie when both individuals are incredibly stressed, and Mace blames Capa for deciding to pursue Icarus I.

The acute levels of psychological stress that the astronauts undergo is also demonstrated through the character Trey.  After failing to accurately calculate the necessary adjustment in the angle of approach and throwing the ship into turmoil, Trey is horrified with himself.  I cannot even imagine being in such a high-pressure situation that something so seemingly small as 1.5 degrees can inflict irrevocable damage.  As a result, Trey becomes suicidal and must be sedated to keep him from harming himself.  Eventually, his depression and self-blame becomes so intense that he commits suicide rather violently.

I also thought it was interesting how there was a psychologist along on the ship, which makes a lot of sense, and would definitely be a good idea in the rare event that something remotely close to this were to ever happen.  After the fight between Capa and Mace, the psychologist Searle prescribes Capa two hours in the Earth room.  This once again shows how straining it is to be away from life on Earth and confined for so long.  I was curious to see if astronauts actually do receive some sort of counseling or psychological support when on long missions, so did a little searching.  Crew members are tested for psychological fitness and stability.  Additionally, I was surprised to read that the male-to-female ratio is also important.  Studies involving long-term isolation in Antarctica and a Mars base simulation in Canada show that teams faced less conflict when a mixture of both genders were present.  The results also pointed to the fact that too many alpha males were likely to have more conflict, stress, and arguments.  I found this really interesting, since it reminds me of the conflicts between Capa and Mace.


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