Messiah or weapon? Or something else entirely?
Imagine a science fiction movie that focuses less on the fictional powers and more on the human emotions, the cost behind the power. Imagine a science fiction movie that allows you to marvel at the mystery rather than hand-feed you the plot. Imagine a science fiction movie that is a road trip/chase movie that challenges the value of belief. Now stop imagining as Midnight Special is all three of those things and much more. It is a wonderfully strange blend of genres, full of complexity and sentiment. A parable about love and extraordinary ability.
Roy (Michael Shannon) and his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are on the run from both the government and religious extremists. Alton appears to possess special abilities, from being able to effortlessly infiltrate classified government signals to bringing down a satellite from outer-space. A religious cult formed around Alton who, as National Safety Agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) discovers, turned his encoded words into gospel. His supernatural powers so badly altered by daylight that all of the cult became nocturnal. Upon making eye contact with people Alton’s eyes glows and show visions of unknown lands. Having fled the cult, and with the help of childhood friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and Alton’s mother (Kirsten Dunst), Roy must get Alton to specific location for a specific time. Will, as everyone fears and some hope, a celestial and world-changing event take place?
This is not your typical science fiction film. Compared to typical box office fairings Midnight Special is slow, with far more questions than answers, and a narrative that is impossible to stay ahead of. Those are not criticisms, just an acknowledgment that this film is not for everyone. In the preview screening I attended yesterday many of the audience members seemed frustrated or unfulfilled by the film. I was not in agreement with them for the film I had just witnessed was so riveting and magical. Rarely is science fiction this personal and emotive. Yes, a beginners guide to film criticism will show you that Steven Spielberg’s films are about father-son relationships, but what we see here is a different realm. What director and writer Jeff Nichols manages to achieve is a film which places greater emphasis of the consequences of supernatural power rather than the benefits of it, prompting the reflection that more is lost than gained in such extraordinary circumstances. Few storytellers are this damn magical.
The acting by the entire cast is wondrous, each cast member providing a wondrous blend of awe, fear and honesty. Roy’s love for his son is so deep and unconditional, a level of paternal concern rivalling that of great Epics. Lieberher’s performance here suggests that Room child star Jacob Tremblay may have a rival for Hollywood’s current greatest child actor. Egerton’s performance allows us to give loyalty to a character we know little about, believability to a man who has only known Alton for three days but is willing to give everything to the boy’s journey. Dunst is subtle yet heartbreaking as a mother who fears she will have to give up her son once more.
The cinematography is marvellous, as is the soundtrack and the storytelling. Of particular favourite is the Easter Egg of the Superman-starring comic book that Alton is reading in the back of the car. Any in depth analysis of the parallels between Superman and Alton would be spoilerific, but the very fact both are outsiders with great power is a wonderfully subtle touch. Just like the entire film it’s an allusion to other sci-fi works, but something that is so uniquely individual and riveting.
Some may say slow. I say spellbinding, sincere and utterly superb.