Film Grains: Midnight Special (2016)

ALton Meyer

Anticipation:    4/5    Jeff Nichols is not a household name, but he’s one of my favorite directors out there right now. He directed Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (2011), and Matthew McConaughey in Mud (2012), both exceptional films that everyone needs to see. Midnight Special is his latest and I was intrigued by the trailer.

Final Verdict:    5/5   Midnight Special is what great films are made of. It is filled with a sense of innocence, hope and awe; three things that audiences have not seen on the silver-screen in quite some time.

In the plainest of terms, Midnight Special is the story of a father trying to rescue his son from people who are trying to kidnap and take advantage of him. Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy with special powers, is hunted by both, a religious cult that believes he is their saviour and the government that wants to study him and use him as a weapon. His father, Roy (Michael Shannon) and his acolyte, Lucas (Joel Edgerton), will stop at nothing to keep Alton safe.

Midnight Special is science fiction as much as Carpenter’s Starman (1984), Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Cahill’s Another Earth (2011) and J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (2011) are to be considered in the genre.  Nichols’ tribute is obviously to both Carpenter and Spielberg and it is rendered in a sensational way. Where Nichols’ Midnight Special differs from the aforementioned five, is it has the merit of perspective viewings based on which of the three main characters you identify with.

Midnight 2

If viewed from Alton’s perspective, then you are confronted with notions of identity; where you, as an individual, fit in to the mix. During a key sequence, Alton becomes fearful of what may happen to him but, refusing to listen to his father’s concerns, he makes a crucial decision and becomes the better for it. The scene beckons a re-evaluation of the obstacles you face in life, urging you to muster up the courage to move forward and conquer your fears.

From Lucas and Roy’s perspectives, Midnight Special tackles the notions of parental obligation, belief, thought, and philosophy when confronted with events that are beyond rational human comprehension. Lucas is a former State Trooper and Roy is a former Church disciple and Alton’s biological father. Lucas and Roy come together, in an unlikely partnership, because they have witnessed something that is more complex than which side of the fence their beliefs fall on. Lucas’s faith in man-made laws are challenged in the same way Roy’s faith in Scripture is. Early in the film, in a bid to save Alton, Lucas is forced to break the law he swore to uphold. He is deeply affected by his decision, but understands the necessity for it. After renouncing the cult exploiting his son, Roy explains to Alton that his job is to worry about him. “That’s the deal” he says. But, Roy understands that he must let Alton go, that his job as a parent can no longer influence Alton’s decisions. The emotion displayed by the two father figures, guardian angels if you will, makes you ponder the necessity of purpose, and whether you have one at all. The characters, Lucas and Roy, challenge you to re-assess your convictions rather than uphold ideologies that encourage one-sidedness.

A beautiful example of how Midnight Special navigates ideological separations is through Adam Stone’s sublime cinematography. Stone supports Nichols’ direction by dividing not only what is being shown on screen (especially the sky and the Earth, highways and roads), but also by how the three protagonists are placed in the car: Lucas driving on one side, Roy sitting in the passenger seat and Alton in the backseat, not on either side, but in the middle. The fact that Alton is in the middle creates so many different paths for interpretation. It also highlights that he is not of heaven, yet not of Earth. He is in the middle; a different frequency if you will. Someone beyond rational comprehension.

Midnight-Special

It seems ironic that because I believe Alton to be beyond rational comprehension, that I have taken the time to rationalize my thoughts on Midnight Special. I spent some time reading some of the more negative reviews, most of which concern the 3rd act of the film. To the critics of the 3rd act, I have this to posit: if we take the spiritual connotations that are peppered throughout the film, don’t we all become disciples of Alton Meyer? Disciples that perhaps echo Thomas? We live in an era where no one takes anything at face value; no one trusts anymore. We all doubt, suspect or question. Nichols’ 3rd act plays into just that. He places the audience in the same position as everyone else that is observing Alton. He understands that seeing is believing. Nichols is asking us to have a little faith, to accept things that we don’t necessarily understand, that not everything is meant to be rationalized or broken down.

Midnight Special is by far the best film I have seen this year. It is a true wonder and now finds itself on my list of favorite films. Many people like Alton Meyer have blessed our lives with their presence; people we love, people we admire, people that inspire us, give us hope. More often than not, we do not fully comprehend those people and that is where part of our admiration comes from. There is something special in them that awakes something dormant inside us. There is no doubt that Alton Meyer is not like us. He is special, but what we need to see in him, is that we also were… once upon a time.

 

Midnight Special trailer

Here is Little White Lies’ favorable review of Midnight Special

Want a slightly different opinion? Here is Diego’s @lazysundaymovie “I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty bored at times” review

And lastly, here is a conference given by Jeff Nichols on “Finding a Point of View”

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Lee Brady says:

    Glad we’re in the same boat on this one, such a great movie. Totally of another era, easily one of the best films of this year and we should be grateful there are directors out there still making movies with such a fantastical take on real human qualities. Great review, gets right to the heart of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lee! Your “bygone era” (to quote your approach) feel is spot on. As I mention above, Starman, E.T. and Close Encounters came to mind. Also, I loved the fact that you kept your review spoiler free. One thing I didn’t mention kin my review, and that I’d like your input on, was how Midnight Special employs, or rather, recycles the “road movie” genre. By the end of the film, the only person who gets to where they are going, is Alton. Any thoughts?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lee Brady says:

        Well, it definitely ticks the right boxes! Especially in the ‘journey being more important than the destination’ checkbox. We genuinely do not need to know where Alton was going to, just as we never needed to see E.T. go home. We just needed to see them get to the apex of their relationship, the cross-roads of commitment vs. self-desire, and hope by the end of it all they could still do the right thing.

        While Alton actually gets to experience the next step in the goal of the journey, I feel that for Roy and Lucas and Alton’s mother, just seeing that there was a next step, no matter how ominous and unweildly, that they were right to trust Alton enough to let him make his own mistakes, is a destination. It’s an uncertain, possibly dangerous ending, but I feel they all know there was no other way for their stories to end, and so they actually achieve an “ending” as such, and more so than Alton who has more road yet to travel.

        That’s my take from it all anyway, any disagreement/other take? ;)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yup, I agree with that. Alton has a complete arc and Roy, Lucas, and Sarah have an ending. But what’s interesting is that we don’t see the latter three’s respective beginnings, how they’ve come to their conclusions. They are beautiful unanswered questions and Nichols does a wonderful job fleshing them out just enough to support their actions in the film. Very cool response, Lee :)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Lee Brady says:

        Couldn’t agree more :)
        Scholary discussion and agreement made, I believe that at least puts us in “peers” territory Jason, hahaha!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. We always have been, sir :) We just hadn’t started the discussion yet :)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Diego says:

    Aha this review actually made me doubt myself. Awesome review man! And cheers for the shout out!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks to you, dear sir :) The discussions these reviews are creating is what I want. My gf laughed when she read your comment! She said she feels exactly the same, like “did we watch the same film?” :)

      Like

  3. Great review! This is just what I needed to finally convince myself to go see it. Looking forward to it.

    Like

    1. Thanks Brendan! I hope you enjoy it! I’ve watched 4 times and still can’t get the theme song out of my head. Wonderful masterpiece of a film :)

      Liked by 1 person

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