The Movie The Music

THE MOVIE, THE MUSIC | Sunshine

What are the best uses of music in cinema? How does a particular song help a scene or moment transcend itself? With this column ‘The Movie, The Music’, I’ll go into how a particular piece of music adds to what’s happening onscreen; how it elevates the tone, mood and emotion. This week, I’ll be looking at Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. *Spoilers follow*

The Movie: Sunshine by Danny Boyle

The Music: ‘Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)’ by John Murphy


In every advert that begs for some extra leverage of the heart strings, or in a movie trailer that requires a substitute for genuine scope, the odds are you’ll have heard John Murphy’s ‘Adagio in D Minor’. In fact, you may be cosily familiar with it, even though you may not realise its original function was to serve as the main theme for Danny Boyle’s 2007 science fictioner Sunshine. The reason it’s been adopted by film, commercial, and trailer editors everywhere is because, while it’s fittingly suited to the backdrop of suns and heavyweight sci-fi themes, its emotive, immediately recognisable yet distinctly faceless string arrangement and four purposeful-sounding chords means it’s serviceably apt to suit this, this and also this. The Adagio, and the slightly different instrumental variations it appears in, seems to lock into that part in every human heart which looks at the world with unabashed, wide-eyed euphoria and hope.
But it’s in Sunshine where it falls into place most perfectly. There are two critical moments during Danny Boyle’s space opera where John Murphy’s deceptively simple, sparse yet highly evocative score really lifts the movie into the stratospheric realms it constantly reaches for. These moments are the key parts of Sunshine: Kaneda’s death by a wave of intense solar heat is notable, but it’s Capa’s jump – played by a superb Cillian Murphy – which comes during the much-maligned third act that is the most effective. The jump through anchorless space between two sections of spacecraft is as electrifying as any movie sequence ever made, the tension during which becomes almost unbearable. But it’s the music that ties it all together, and brings the moment down from a preposterous action movie stunt into something so important that you’ll truly feel as if the fate of the Earth is in the balance. Which, in the context of the story, is actually the case.
John Murphy is probably a rich man from the sheer amount of royalties he receives from this. And for good reason, too; scores like this take us not only to the depths of space, but that of our own capabilities. Capa shows us not that only he can make the jump, but we can too. John Murphy just makes the music.

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About GaryGreenScreen

Freelance film critic.

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Gary Green: Freelance film critic.

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