A Review from Nigel Watson
Midnight Special is in the Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from the 24th – 30th June.
A boy sits on the backseat of a car at night. He’s wearing googles, ear-defenders and he’s reading a superhero comic by torchlight. He looks odd, and we wonder who he is, why are his senses being suppressed, where is he going, who is he with and what the heck is going on in general. questions, questions…
That is the general tone of director Jeff Nichols’ film, it is literally and metaphorically a journey of discovery. We find that the 8-year-old boy is Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) who has special powers and his Father, Roy (Michael Shannon) has taken him from the clutches of a cult called the Ranch, and the FBI, along with other US government agencies want him too. They are all aware that Alton is able to pick up messages and signals, which indicate something Earth-shattering will occur at a certain location by the end of the week.
Roy and his old friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) have to fight off the determined efforts of the Ranch members to re-capture him, and evade the federal forces that are equally keen to track him down. Just when you least expect it there are sudden explosions of violence and action. Yet, this doesn’t have the stupid CGI wham bang of glossy blockbuster science fiction blockbusters (‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ for the latest example of this type to hit our screens), instead it takes its subject seriously.
‘Midnight Special’ toys with ideas about our existence, and our relationship with the Universe and other intelligences. Like Stanley Kubrick’s classic ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ it does not offer any easy answers, indeed like ‘2001’ it makes you want to discuss more about what it portrays, and makes you want a ‘Midnight Special’ prequel to probe the origins of Alton and a sequel to see what happens next!
It also has its roots in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (‘CE3K’), where the aliens and their craft are also surrounded by powerful lights. In both films ‘vision’ is important as the lights are not only from the outside forces, they also represent the light of imagination (especially childhood imagination) and the illumination of the cinema’s projected image that the director is able to manipulate and bring to life in a god-like fashion. The visual element is also underlined by the fact that Alton wears googles to stop the light, whilst Lucas needs the aid of night googles to enable him to drive without headlights – Alton is gifted to ‘see’ whilst Lucas has to rely on our technology to push the boundaries of our puny senses.
Like ‘CE3K’ and Spielberg’s ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’, ‘Midnight Special’ culminates in a beautiful revelation, after the main characters avoid the clutches of the law. It also bears reference to the belief in hybrid children that have been allegedly produced by intercourse between humans and aliens during alien abduction experiences, and in terms of film, who can forget the 1960 ‘Village of the Damned’ where the village of Midwich is invaded by a alien force which induces women of child-bearing age to become pregnant, and subsequently give birth to unusually golden-eyed, precocious children.
‘Midnight Special’ reflects age-old anxieties and myths about the dangers and wonders of the next generation, who might herald a new age that will leave us mortals behind.