Midnight Special – A sci-fi road movie

Two men, a little boy, a car and the night are the main elements Midnight Special starts its journey with. It opens with a few road movie clichés: a car, the road and its passengers escaping or heading somewhere. However, Midnight Special, as its title indicates, is special, and the passengers are also quite peculiar and unique, one of them especially so: the little boy sitting in the back seat, reading a comic and wearing swimming goggles and huge headphones.

This is just the start of Jeff Nichols’ fourth movie: Midnight Special, a science fiction thriller with some road movie elements sprinkled on top, written and directed by Nichols. The director, known for Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud, comes back to the big screen with his favourite and most valuable actor: Michael Shannon, who has worked in all of Nichols’ films.

Midnight Special follows the story of Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) a special boy that believes he doesn’t belong to earth. He has lived all his life with his adoptive parents on “The Ranch”, a religious sect. From his eyes emits a powerful bright blue light that, when unleashed, is painful for him and for the people surrounding him. It’s both a power and a curse, limiting what he can do and forcing him to walk around with goggles covering his eyes (the light of the sun hurts him, too). There’s also a story behind the headphones – he’s able to receive radio signals. These strange, otherworldly qualities make Alton different to the rest of the humans. He’s, well, special.

Alton’s birth father, Roy (Michael Shannon) and his ex-wife (Alton’s birth mother), Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) were once part of “The Ranch”. Roy decides to take Alton away from the religious cult once he realizes that his boy is special and that he might be in danger. With the company of an old friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy and Alton escape “The Ranch” and start heading down the American road to… somewhere. Half way through their journey, they stop at Sarah’s home, who is aware of the situation, where she decides to join the group.

Midnight Special is intriguing, mysterious and exciting. As spectators, we travel together with Alton, Roy, Lucas and Sarah to a secret place where Alton needs to get to and that might be his last chance of survival. It’s easier said than done, though, particularly when both the US Government – which believes Alton to be some kind of weapon – and a religious sect – which believes him to be the Saviour of mankind – are following you. The mystery of Alton’s existence stalks the film: is he a weapon, a Saviour, an angel, or an Alien? There’s more questions than answers, and imagination is a necessity for the audience when the ending of the film approaches.

Perhaps the strongest, and most important, theme in the film is fatherhood: the real bond that connects fathers with sons, no matter what. Roy is convinced that his son is special, trusts him over anything, and will hurt, lie, threaten and kill for him, if needed. The bond that connects Roy with Alton holds the story together and makes the film far more realistic, and far more human, than most other science-fiction movies. It’s an emotional, character-driven, science-fiction road movie that will intrigue you and leave you asking questions long after it’s finished. Prepared to get on the road?

Silvia Mariscal

Image courtesy of Entertainment One

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