Why did the villain of Danny Boyle's 2007 movie, Sunshine, flicker?

Also, did he have "superpowers" (he seemed able to either run really fast or phase/teleport)?

3 Answers 3


The villian didn't really 'flicker'. He was just never in focus. It was a effect created by the DOP to give the feeling that he wasn't himself anymore. He was completely engulfed in the cabin fever that he suffered from or the Sun itself.

I don't think he had super powers, but it just seemed like he did because of the circumstances.

From Wikipedia:

The insane captain of Icarus I, the first ship that was sent to reignite the Sun. Pinbacker was inspired by the character of Sergeant Pinback from Dark Star. The character's disfiguring burns were influenced by the injuries suffered by F1 driver Niki Lauda. Boyle described the character of Pinbacker as a representation of fundamentalism. The director also described the potentially unrealistic presence of Pinbacker as an example of something that breaks the pattern of realism, similar to his scene in Trainspotting (1996) in which Ewan McGregor's character dives into a toilet.

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    I did think of this while watching the movie. Unfortunately such visual symbolism doesn't work well imo, as viewers tend to accept what they're shown as real, especially in otherwise rather realistic movies. (Well, even if we understand the symbolism of certain elements, they have to have a working "in world" explanation as well so that they don't break suspension of disbelief.) (Sidenote: Trainspotting was about drugs and hallucinations hence the toilet scene did not really break SoD. The same unrealism breaks a movie like Sunshine... in a bad way, imo.)
    – OpaCitiZen
    Aug 18, 2011 at 9:02
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    @OpaCitiZen, additionally, a lot of the bad science in Sunshine also breaks it. Like the magical ability for anything on the earth to ever have the power to reignite the sun. They could split half the earth into antimatter and collide the two halves together at the center of the sun and it wouldn't significantly increase its output. - Just finished doing the math, and I believe doing this would cause the sun to explode. Finding this page on wikipedia made my math moot. Look near the bottom. (still not enough to increase output)
    – DampeS8N
    Aug 18, 2011 at 11:23
  • If anyone is interested, doing the above to the earth would be the same as the output of the sun for 27,397,260 years. Which puts into perspective how silly these sun bombs were.
    – DampeS8N
    Aug 18, 2011 at 11:53
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    @OpaCitiZen, I just find it ironic that a failed cinematographic effect damages SoP more than terrible, horrible science. We are talking magical science. In a movie that otherwise tried really hard to look like Hard SF.
    – DampeS8N
    Aug 18, 2011 at 12:13
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    I dont think that the effect was failed. I liked what they did and I love that movie. Even if it could never really happen. This is Science Fiction, after all ;P Aug 18, 2011 at 13:13

Danny Boyle discusses the character and visualisation of Pinbacker at great length in this interview with TwitchFilm and this interview with BlackFilm.

My apologies if these two interviews seem very similar (he's clearly memorised his 'talking points') but both quotes shed light on the different aspects of your questions.

Why did he flicker?

It's not so much what is Pinbacker—obviously he represents fundamentalism—but it's really a challenge to [Capa's] sanity, which is of course what it would be to go out there

Why we visualized him like that is because of what I said before about witnessing. It's very difficult to say when somebody has lived out there for that long, it's not possible but who knows what's possible? We've discovered extraordinary things. So I wanted him to be spectral, but not like a ghost. He's literally like the bits that make him up—the protons and neutrons that make us all up—have kind of reorganized in some way.

Did he have superpowers?

Q : Why did you add in the radiation-scarred insane mad-killer Pinbacker character?

DB: It's introducing him into an otherwise realistically based film. Otherwise, it's an extreme psychological element, really. In a way, he's a character. He's based on the guy who piloted the first ship, who has had this transformation....

You have to represent that in some way, and we represented that with Pinbacker, this guardian of the gates of heaven or hell, whatever you want to call it. He stands there as a guardian at the gateway. I wanted to depict him in a way that was as extreme as I could do, which I could do technically, which is this blurring, this stretching. You take that kind of risk with somebody. I wanted him to feel that, literally, the protons and neutrons that make him up had been reorganized somehow--that he was no longer recognizable as a human, except that he is still speaking with a human voice and he is captain of the first ship.


People I have two separate science fictional answers here: I feel that if the technology was present to convert dark matter or maybe its zero point energy which one of these is what most the universe is made of to photonic energy that would create the mass and Nuclear fusion to create a star. I think that is what the bomb in Sunshine suggested. That would be smashing two dark matter particles together to stir a chain reaction by what means was left to the audience to decide. Second answer for Pimbacker or however you spell his name, the movie suggested to me that the reason for the blurryness with him had to do with getting so close to the sun for so long that his body and space time became distorted due to the intense gravity of the sun. This is the answer I get from a sci fi perspective. After all this was science fiction as in warped science. Thanks for listening.

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