Danny Boyle's Sunshine is set fifty years in the future, as a team of specialised engineers set off on a mission to drive a giant nuclear bomb into the sun in an attempt to reignite the dying star. The film explores the tensions amongst the crew members, as various problems arise and they are required to make snap decisions and sacrifices in order to keep their mission on track.
In December 2006, Sunshine was submitted to the BBFC for an advice viewing. An advice viewing is a facility the BBFC offers distributors in which works (sometimes unfinished) can be viewed by a senior or experienced examiner who can give the company advice as to the likely category a work will receive. Sometimes companies alter films on the basis of this to make it more likely that they will achieve a desired category.
The issues noted were strong language, horror and violence and one scene was highlighted as being potentially problematic, placing the work on the borderline between the 15 and 18 categories. The problematic scene is that in which a man's body is discovered by his crewmates. He appears to have committed suicide by slashing his wrists.
The BBFC is concerned that dangerous suicide techniques at 15 should not 'dwell on imitable detail' (BBFC Guidelines). Where a work focuses on suicide wounds, this could be instructional and other works have been placed at 18 or even cut where such detail is present.
In classifying Sunshine, examiners felt that there is no focus on the wounds on the man's wrists and that the viewer's attention is captured by the pooling of blood around the body and elsewhere. The wounds are visible and it is central to the plot that a scalpel has been used, but the way in which the cuts have been made is entirely incidental. On top of all this, as the plot progresses the viewer begins to realise that the man may not have killed himself, given the fact that a deranged killer is loose in the spaceship, armed with the missing scalpel.
The apparent suicide technique is not very common and works which have been placed at 18 for this contained aggravating elements which have rendered such scenes particularly instructional. A notable recent example is Top Spot (Emin, 2005), which was passed at 18 because of the technique clearly shown. This film is about teenage girls and, according to the director, is aimed specifically at that age group. The fact that the film is about teens had a clear influence on the decision to pass it at the higher category.
Though Sunshine does have appeal to a teenage audience, the character who has apparently committed suicide is a scientist in the year 2057, apparently driven over the edge through guilt over the future of mankind. It was felt that vulnerable teenagers were unlikely to identify with this character in the same way as with the protagonists of Top Spot.
The film Stay (Forster, 2005) was cut for 15 for the sight of recent scars from wrist slashing and dialogue references to this form of suicide technique, including medical detail. These are instructional elements and it is a long way from Sunshine, where the specifics of technique are not focused upon at all. There is no suggestion that this method would be more successful than another and no comment is made about the effectiveness of the technique.
As there are no aggravating contextual elements, examiners felt it to be highly unlikely that a viewer would take instruction from the scene and a 15 was recommended. The work was seen by the BBFC's Head of Policy and the Director, who agreed with the 15 category.
In addition to the bloody elements in the scene above, which is probably the strongest in the film, there are other scenes of 15-level violence. These include a man removing a strip of flesh from another's arm and a man getting his leg trapped underwater. The film also contains strong moments of horror, as a former crew-member with burned and blackened flesh stalks the spacecraft, picking off members of the crew.
More than twenty uses of 'f**k' and one 'motherf**ker' reinforced the 15 category. The film's BBFCinsight reads 'Contains strong violence, horror and language'.
Sunshine was also passed 15 on video and was chosen for National Schools Film Week 2007.