Ostensibly it's Pinbacker, the captain of the Icarus I who appears to have had a religious experience with the Sun. Following this, he becomes insane (or enlightened) and sabotages the original Icarus I, killing everyone inside directly or indirectly.

Seven years later after the original failed mission, when Icarus II docks with Icarus I, Pinbacker seems to have sabotaged the airlock and somehow found his way onto the Icarus II where he sabotages the ship in the same way (overheating the mainframe) and continues being a violent psychopath.

However, it's unclear whether Pinbacker actually existed or was merely a figment of Capa's imagination after Capa viewed the video of the insane Pinbacker on Icarus I. With both interpretations there appear to be several issues.

Problems if he's real

  • Pinbacker survives for 7 years without shielding on the Icarus I. He might have had sufficient food, water and air since his other crew-members were dead.
  • He appears to have sustained very serious burns all over his body yet survives for 7 years.
  • There's thick dust all over the Icarus I, suggesting there has been little movement for a long time.
  • He manages to find his way aboard the Icarus II somehow without anyone noticing
  • The computer (named the Icarus) doesn't alert the crew about the new crew member who suddenly appeared
  • He doesn't have a distinct appearance. When he is show on-screen it's momentarily, unclear or just a silhouette.


  • He manages to magically teleport from the exploding Icarus II to the payload to further thwart Capa's attempts to detonate it.
  • Nobody else appears to see him (clearly) besides Capa

Problems if he's imaginary

  • He murders Corazon directly and pretty unambiguously
  • He wounds Capa directly, leaving with a large visible gash across his torso
  • He fights Cassie and Capa on the payload
  • Capa is locked in the airlock and unable to leave due to the manual override that seems to have been pulled by Pinbacker
  • The computer notes there is a 5th person onboard draining oxygen reserves

I'm still left rather confused after the movie. Is there any clear indication in-universe or from the directors/producers/etc about the intended interpretation?

  • Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/5113/…
    – Kyle Jones
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:37
  • "Capa is locked in the airlock and unable to leave due to the manual override that seems to have been pulled by Capa" Who is locked where and who pulled what?
    – Xantec
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 21:45
  • 3
    Brian Cox was the true villain. He was the science adviser but didn't get the line 'It's daylight saving time!' Into the film ANYWHERE
    – Peter
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 19:33

3 Answers 3


Pinbacker is real.

Both theories indeed are circling the internet. But according to the Wikipedia entry and confirmed by the director Danny Boyle Pinbacker is real, even if his existence stretches realism to the breaking point.

Guillén: Returning to Pinbacker, how did you come up with your visualization of him?—this strange, blurring image—what was that all about? And how did he get on the ship? I have to be honest, I didn't understand how he got on the ship.

Boyle: It's obvious. I can't believe people say that. We haven't explained it enough clearly because you're not the first person to say that. If you watch it again, it's very obvious where he gets on the ship, I think, where he switches ships. I can't explain that any more. It is in the film where he switches ships. We did visualize it at one point. We did show him switching ships; but, again, I didn't want that because I didn't want any manifestation of him until [Capa] walks into that room and witnesses him. It's when the ships join and they go on to the other ship and then the ships get separated. He has mechanically separated the ships. He has switched ships, thereby abandoning all four of them and leaving himself on the ship with three other people so he can stop this mission as well. He knows his mission was stopped; it's not going to go on any further. So he goes onto the other ship and he's going to stop that mission as well.


A bit more background:

  • 5
    +1 Thanks for the quote. I'd prefer if he was imaginary :( His being real is too dumb to be true.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 21:35
  • @Andres F Glad to help. Indeed, from the man of the toilet scene...
    – Bookeater
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 6:05

My interpretation was that Pinbacker was the devil. The sun was dying - the sun represented God. He/the Sun was weak (perhaps knew he would be invaded). Pinbacker became obsessed and turned evil and wanted to infiltrate God. He said he spent 7 years talking to God who told him to send everyone to Hell. He'd become superhuman/drunk with power as he fought in the final scenes. His image was similar to what we are all taught to look like the devil. The movie touched on religion and to ignore that aspect in the end leaves a huge hole in the meaning of the storyline.

Other things like the dust - he could have worn a suit or lived in the vegetation. Changing ships - showing him would ruin the plot. Not being told by the computer a 5th person was on board. There was one member that died. It could have taken time to identify him or he intercepted it manually. The computer couldn't calculate if they would complete the mission after the 4 mins: it had its flaws but I gathered that it was because of all the variables that it was like time bent and a man made computer was limited by our own knowledge. I didn't expect to see inside the sun.


I read an interview with screenwriter Alex Garland who said that he and Boyle interpret the third act differently. I've been trying to find it today and can't seem to. But what that says to me is that Garland intended for Pinbacker to not be in Capa's head. What would solve all of the plausibility issues if he's fake is if Capa IS Pinbacker. He kills his crew because deep down he knows he needs to in order to complete the mission. Him hearing the announcement about the extra passenger using oxygen is merely his own mind justifying what he feels he must do.

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    – Politank-Z
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 18:03
  • Can you locate said interview?
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 14:14

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