Danny Boyle's belief in the articulacy of imagery makes him rare, though not unique, among British directors. His trippy films delight in moments of rapture—from which he finds it hard to come down.by Mark Cousins / June 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
I went to see Danny Boyle’s science fiction film Sunshine in April. Immediately, I was back on planet Boyle. One of the first images is a canted, off-angle close-up of a white T-shirt and sideways lips. It tracks leftwards and upwards to dark glasses, reflecting an intense orange light. Some reviewers found the film derivative, but here, before questions of genre or story kicked in, was a fresh image. As I watched, I could feel Boyle’s passion for pictorial novelty, his belief in the articulacy of imagery. No British director of his generation has held up such a kaleidoscope to life.
Boyle has always done this. Shallow Grave (1994) was influenced by the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple (1984), but its final scene—with Ewan McGregor’s smiling corpse and Kerry Fox in hysterics while the shot tracks down through the floor to reveal the hidden money—took my breath away. The “Perfect Day” heroin scene in Boyle’s next film, Trainspotting (1996), also features McGregor lying on his back; this time the floor opens and he sinks into it as if it were a welcoming coffin. Boyle’s zombie movie 28 Days Later (2002)—whose sequel 28 Weeks Later, on which Boyle served as executive producer rather than director, is now in the cinemas—looked like it was photographed through a scrim of grain and video-lines. It broke Steven Spielberg’s cardinal rule that photographic grain shouldn’t show in cinematic imagery. Yet it was a box office hit, and influenced the look of entertainment cinema thereafter.
Boyle doesn’t work alone, of course, and his team of writers, cinematographers and designers must take a bow. They have helped to create both the look of Boyle’s films and their fascination with rapture. Boyle has repeatedly said that he’s more interested in cinematic vivacity than in realism, and this can be seen in the way his movies want to take off into the air. They are structured like musicals, building up to scenes of choreographed expressivity. A Life Less Ordinary (1997) is full of alchemical moments in which reality melts away and life becomes a song. Its sense of joy seemed dated to many critics, but I loved it. Sunshine’s sense of rapture, by contrast, is more modern. In one scene, the space crew is seated in the spaceship’s huge observational window. One of them says: “Ladies and gentlemen, Mercury…” They watch, hypnotised, as the small planet crosses the massive burning…