By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Midnight Special picks up as an Amber Alert is issued for a young boy named Alton. Alton is on the road with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Roy’s friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). Alton has some strange abilities, which can cause Earth tremors, brilliant flashes of light, and that’s just scratching the surface. Alton grew up on a compound called The Ranch, a cult that worshiped Alton for his powers, and they want him back, believing Judgment Day is coming, and the authorities want Alton too for obvious reasons. Alton has a destination, and he will get there one way or another. His father Roy, on the other hand, is just focused on his son, and the unexplained mission on which the trio has embarked. Along the way, Roy picks up his estranged wife, Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst), who is equally eager to help Alton on his way regardless of the roadblocks the government throws his way…
Director Jeff Nichols (Mud) once again crafts a stunningly visual and emotional story starring a child actor. Nichols himself has cited Spielberg and John Carpenter as inspirations, and Midnight Special bears this comparison out very admirably. Nichols’ story is tightly constructed; giving away and leaving out details with just the right measure to keep the audience engaged in the central mystery without gilding the lily or becoming tiresome. The soundtrack by David Wingo perfectly sets the mood of the film, combining synth and orchestra in a way that enhances the wonder and mystery at hand. The cinematography by Adam Stone is meaningful and realistic, shot mostly on film, except for nighttime car sequences that could only be accomplished digitally. The humanity of the film’s characters protagonist and antagonist alike are brought to the fore. While the story requires much of the film to be shot at night, the few daytime shots are absolutely gorgeous.
Michael Shannon is no stranger to Jeff Nichols films, having appeared in every single one of them. Here he is at his dependable best. Roy is more sensitive than the typical Shannon role, Shannon having been typecast in larger budget films as the villain or otherwise threatening characters. Here, Shannon is simply a devoted father who doesn’t quite understand his son’s abilities, but loves him for who he is regardless. Child actor Jaeden Lieberher (St. Vincent) is pitch-perfect as Alton, who is slowly coming to terms with his identity.
Alton goes through a frenetic arc in the film, within a span of several days going from a scared, helpless child to one with a purpose, and a conscious direction. Joel Edgerton and Kirsten Dunst are solid supporters, both with their own motives. Edgerton is particularly interesting as it is later revealed that he is the one who truly gave up the most to follow Alton. The reveal is a powerful moment that is treated without much pomp or circumstance, but immediately validates his devotion to the mission.
Director Jeff Nichols has said in interviews the film’s principle theme is parenthood. Further examination of this makes a lot of sense; the trip that the four are on can be seen in that light. Being a parent involves navigating numerous dangers at every turn, while also trying to instill some knowledge of how to live in the mind of the child when all is said and done. Ultimately, a parent’s goal is to see their child through their first few difficult years of life, hopefully matured and ready for an uncertain future by the time he’s reached adulthood. This fits in with the film’s themes closely, even if it doesn’t explain everything in it. This is a movie that demands multiple viewings and philosophical debates with friends, and rest assured I will be doing all of that in the coming weeks.
Midnight Special is a film that is going to take some time to fully sink in. I’m not sure yet what it all means, but I’m fascinated by what I saw, and cannot wait to see it again.
Midnight Special Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for glowing eyes
Take a Drink: when something weird happens that goes unexplained
Do a Shot: for Adam Driver’s “in over his head” face
Take a Drink: for cardboard (seriously)