Hundreds of movie-goers with badges and wristbands lined up outside of the Paramount on March 12 at SXSW to see the headliner “Midnight Special” directed by Jeff Nichols, who is best known for directing “Mud” starring Matthew McConaughey.
By Emily Nash
"Midnight Special" begins with Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) running away with an 8-year-old boy named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), who is wearing swimming goggles at night. The first few scenes of the movie are ambiguous — viewers don’t know whether these men are kidnapping the boy or saving him.
We eventually learn that Roy is Alton’s father and Lucas is an old friend, and they actually did kidnap him from a cult that worships him because they believe he is some sort of miracle worker. Alton does have superpowers, which is why he wears swimming goggles and why he can only go out at night — the daylight makes lasers come out of his eyes, transing people if they meet his gaze.
Roy and Lucas make it to Alton’s mother’s house, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) and together the four them run away on a specific day to a specific location that Alton has to go to in order to become a part of another world, suggesting that there are other beings like him. This entire time, the FBI are on the hunt for them because, according to NSA Agent Paul Sevier (Adam Driver), Alton holds confidential government information and they need to detain him to figure out how he knew of the data.
Alton eventually makes it to the location where he will be picked up by the other world in the middle of a large field. The last scene is very much like a 1980s sci-fi scene; glowing aliens aboard a shiny, advanced spaceship that lands over all of Georgia. There is a large explosion, and then it’s over. Alton has gone with his own kind.
Nichols leaves audiences confused for at least the first half of the movie. Viewers have to play catch up because of the lack of character information and lack of explanation as to why exactly Alton is running away and where he is going. Scene by scene pieces of the puzzle are sort of made clear, however several questions are left unanswered. What was the cult planning to do to Alton? Why did Sarah leave the cult and not take Alton with her? What is the bigger purpose of Alton leaving this world and moving on to another?
Aside from the ambiguity, the film has bigger lessons that have nothing to do with the sci-fi part of it. “Midnight Special” tells the story of the lengths parents will go to ensure their child is safe. While viewers wonder about Alton’s special abilities and what this other world has to offer him, Nichols puts his faith in the audience for them to figure out these mysteries and instead focuses on the bond between a father and his son. The characters in “Midnight Special” are forced to make sacrifices and decide what extremities they will go to to do what is right.