Midnight Special is rated 12A for moderate violence, threat
The Scoop – Intriguing, affecting Sci-Fi which keeps its cards close to its chest
Two men and a young boy are on the run in the dead of night. Sneaking out of a motel room, they climb into a nondescript car and drive away. To avoid being spotted by the police, they turn off the headlights, the driver donning night-vision goggles so he can see the road in the darkness. The boy in the back seat is wearing goggles too – for a very different reason.
He is Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), an eight-year-old possessed of mysterious powers which mean that he must be kept out of daylight. One of the men, Roy (Michael Shannon), is Alton’s father; the other, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy’s childhood friend. Having kidnapped Alton from a cult which sees his abilities as messianic, they are on their way to rendezvous with Alton’s mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst).
Roy, Lucas and Sarah believe that they are taking Alton to meet his destiny. But other people, with other ideas, are in pursuit.
It’s so wonderful, sometimes, to go into a film knowing absolutely nothing about it. I’ve been tied up working on other projects for the last couple of weeks (which is why this blog’s been so quiet), and as a result haven’t kept up with the usual stream of trailers, think-pieces and reviews around the latest releases. This experience of going in blind was particularly apt for Midnight Special, a film which builds its narrative tension around questions of what we know and what we don’t know, what we’re shown and not shown, told and not told.
I’m generally of the opinion that films do better to leave plenty of room for the audience’s imagination, and writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud) seems to subscribe to this philosophy too. Until its closing stretch Midnight Special is more concerned with building atmosphere and emotion than with spelling out what kind of world we’re operating in, or filling in backstory. It’s a gripping, intriguing and beautiful ride.
The issue with generating suspense through keeping the audience in the dark is that you’d better have something impressive to show when you finally flick on the light. The critics seem to be divided on whether Midnight Special lets itself down when it finally plays its hand, and I think I’d have to watch it again to decide where I stand. But one thing’s certain: I’d choose this strange film over a hundred production-line comic book blockbusters any day.
- How much did you know about Midnight Special when you went into the cinema? What kind of film were you expecting it to be, and did it meet or upend your expectations? What other films did it remind you of?
- Would you call Midnight Special a Science Fiction film? What kind of story is it interested in telling, and what kind of answers is it interested in giving?
- How did you feel about the way in which the film ended? Were we given enough answers – or not enough, or too many? Where do we leave each of the main characters, and what do you imagine might happen to them now?
- How did you react to Roy, and his relationship with Alton? What clues are we given about Roy’s past and his view of the world? What kind of father is he?
- What reflections does Midnight Special offer on the emotional experience of being a parent? How universal are the emotions that Roy and Sarah go through as Alton’s parents? What does the presence of Lucas, an outsider to the family, add to the story?
‘It’s a shame. You would have made a nice family, otherwise.’ – Lucas
- What does Midnight Special have to say about the nature of belief? What do different characters in the film choose to place their faith in, and what does this faith look like? How are characters changed by their encounters with Alton?
- Does the film suggest anything about the nature of ‘the world on top of ours’? What spiritual or transcendent possibilities does it seem to be exploring? Did the ending feel hopeful to you, and why or why not?
‘There’s a world on top of ours. The people there, they’re like me.’ – Alton