Midnight Special (2016)

This one is special.

Jeff Nichols, who has gained a considerable reputation for his strong, southern dramas, switches gears (well, just a little) to give us a remarkable science fiction drama, which is really a story about the lengths a father is willing to go to for his son.

His son’s strange condition gives him remarkable abilities – but also leaves him unable to go out in the sunlight and becoming progressively ill.  The small religious community they belonged to has become almost a cult, seeing the cryptic words he’s said while in a trance-like state as their gospel.  They think the world is about to end and they will only be saved if they are with him when the time comes.

Unfortunately, he’s also drawn the attention of the U.S. government, because part of what he said had been broadcast by military satellites in unbreakable codes.

But the messages actually contain a message for the boy, giving him a set of coordinates and telling him when he has to be there.

So his father and his childhood friend go on the run with the boy, with everyone after them…

But what’s waiting for them is more remarkable than they can imagine.

In one of the extras, Jeff Nichols talks about his desire to make a film like those he’s seen in the 80s.  Certainly, the film that comes to mind here is John Carpenter’s Starman, which shares a similar sort of plot about an uncanny character on the run from mysterious government agencies.

But Nichols puts the emphasis here on the love of a father (Michael Shannon) for his son, and (what is rarely seen in our day and age) on the deep, unshakable bonds of friendship that can exist between two men.  Kirsten Dunst shows up as the boys mother, and while nothing is ever said about it, and little shown, Nichols manages to show the deep love between the father and mother (and without throwing them into bed together, which is even rarer).  And then there’s Adam Driver, far geekier here than he was as Kylo Ren, who adds a very human touch with his witty portrayal of a senior NSA analyst who is little-kid fascinated with the boy’s remarkable gifts and far more interested in going with him than in catching him

Nor does the final reveal disappoint.  Instead it proves quite beautiful in an unearthly sort of way, and utterly unlike the Close Encouters-style ending we probably expected.

It has been a long time since we saw SF films which tried to fuse serious drama with the more extravagant elements of the genre (one, yes, thinks of movies by Kubrick, Nicholas Roeg, Andrei Tarkovsky and Robert Altman).  Hopefully, Midnight Special is a sign of things to come.

I certainly hope so




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