August 23, 2016
Jeff Nichols Midnight Special starts in a cheap hotel room with the TV speaking out loud. A news anchor states a little kid has been kidnapped. A serious man, Roy, played by Michael Shannon observes the news story closely, standing. A picture of the main suspect pops up in the news story to reveal that it is the same character watching it. We then see another man in the room and the little kidnapped kid who’s name is Alton (played by St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher), and is wearing a pair of goggles, more on this later. One of the many mysteries about this movie is the way they confuse setting. This is a science fiction film although that is revealed about half an hour inside the story. At this moment anything can happen but the story seems mundane enough to be another Jeff Nichols thriller. The television in the hotel room is one of those small ones from the 90s. We see then the characters go into a car they took out of a 70s road movie. Later we see, at a gas station, cars from different eras, parked. A date March 17, 2011 is mentioned somewhere in the film although it is not specified the film to be set in that year. What year is this, then? Nichols smartly dazes the viewer to get a notion of uncertainty before knowing this world is not a real one. It might be a parallel reality. Does it really matter?
This is only another product of auteur Jeff Nichols vast imagination that he has showed before in films like Take Shelter (2011) and the underrated Mud (2012). Mystery is not restrained towards this whole roller coaster of a film. Not in the way that it is full of action, although it has plenty, but in the way that the scenes blend different levels of pain that the characters do not really scream aloud but is seen stamped all over their faces. The desperate quest is to get to a place that the viewer has no idea where it is but the characters seem to be complete focused on what they are doing and where they are going.
Speaking of quests, the FBI is also searching for this kid like crazy. This is not a normal investigation. This kid seems more a big deal than he really seems. Roy and Lucas, the other kidnapper, played by Joel Edgerton, a state trooper who is willing to take any chances to get this kid to the promised land. They run into a cop. They kill him without a sweat of mercy. They state that the kid is more important. In every movie that is not about cops, they get the lowest rank in importance-hierarchy anyway. We then get introduced to a ranch that is a cult. They seem to adore this kid as a sort of messiah. Police closes the place to interview everybody in a couple scenes that seem like a documentary within a documentary.
Paul, a lead operation analyst (whatever that means) played but the funny-looking, highly talented Adam Driver is also nuts about this case. Everybody is. The quiet kid, whose name is revealed to be Anton, does not say much on the first half of the film. This obviously keeps the mystery of who the heck he. People don’t say much about him other than he speaks in tongues and is critical to take him to “the place.” The real science fiction turn occurs at an old guy’s house, Elden. While Roy is resting in a table, using his arms as his pillow, after a long day of kidnaping and cop shooting. An earthquake starts. Roy wakes up and runs to the room where the kid is supposed to be also resting. We then see a intense scene of the kid and the old guy having a sort of laser-ray-eye-to-eye interaction. Without his goggles, the kid seems to shoot a laser ray from his eyes that connects with other person’s eyes, this is later revealed to be a “visible spectrum of light” that no character can describe what it is but seems to be some state of nirvana. The old man apologizes, honestly stating that he needed to see “it” one more time.
The kidnappers leave the house. Roy points a gun to Elden’s face but the scene cuts before we see if he actually killed him. A revelation of Alton being Roy’s son gives the feeling that he is being rescued. Later we see them at a gas station. Lucas goes inside. The other two step out to stretch the legs. The kid causes a well-crafted rain of asteroids from the sky. At least two ladies die. The kid apologizes, though. It is later revealed by the feds that it was a destroyed asteroid what rained all over the gas station. The kid, with his power made it crash because it was watching him.
They soon arrive to Sarah’s a woman with a well-elaborated pony tail played by Kirsten Dunst who seems to be the kid’s mother. Will they make it? Is there a way out of this mess? Killing the boy, maybe, but even in this parallel reality would be immoral. These set of three adults seem to really love him. After the kid goes with his dad into a strange scene with an explosion in the woods, Alton seems to start talking more. He is intelligent and sometimes throws away his own point of views although he still doesn’t say much; he is then kidnapped by two serious killers that look as sad as the Fargo murderers in a well crafted violent shooting that leads into a couple bullet shots but nothing that a bulletproof vest can’t stop.
Alton is obviously interrogated by the police but he doesn’t answer much. They don’t seem to be rash but careful with him. Paul talks to him alone. The kid is scary alright and finally convinces Paul that he has to go back. Paul returns him and asi for an invite to the rest of the roadtrip. He is rejected and left handcuffed in the middle of nowhere, the poor guy. The kid makes it, though. The final part of the movie is what it seems like a really easy access into military barriers when we finally get to the place, which for a while seems just like a nice camp. But wait, suddenly a huge beautiful structure that looks like one of those Dubai hotels in which only Persian billionaires can afford to stay comes off the ground. And that is when our protagonist Alton is saved by his alien foes. He nods to his mom as the universal sign of “we made it.” And his dad lies upside down in a damaged car with what looks to the closest he’ll ever get to smile. Lucas gets interrogated by the police but wins his argument. Then he is introduced to a now-safe Paul. They pretend they never met each other. No one suspects anything. They won.
Jeff Nichols delivers a unique piece of Science Fiction inspired by many others, made in a crude tone, with an original story that opponents might say reads as a counterpart of Rian Johnson’s Looper. It is not. It doesn’t answer every question that doesn’t need to be answered. The movie flows rapidly in an adventure that leaves the viewer wondering what is next despite the fact that the society shown in the film is completely mysterious. Present audiences will claim it as one of the best films of the year. It seems, however, like a movie that will be forgotten by many and it’s probably being a little ignored in the present. But hopefully more people will realize what a consistent director Jeff Nichols is becoming. Plus: the film ends with the always-tormenting last minute twist that movies like The Matrix or novels like Ubik offer. We just have to hope the director won’t make the mistake of developing a sequel that will ruin the twist ending.