One of the few things Midnight Special reveals immediately is the fact that Alton is Roy’s son. He is a child who must literally be kept away from the world, completely mysterious to his father and headed for a destination that not even he is sure of. Raised in what to all accounts seems to be a cult (it is referred to only as “the Ranch,”) They are now on the run trying to get to somewhere because “they are supposed to be there”
Cosmically gifted/cursed child Alton (Lieberher) and his father Roy (Michael Shannon) are fleeing a Christian-ish cult which feeds on Alton’s glowy-eyed power. But while the boy’s origin is resolutely mysterious, it at least becomes clear he is something other than divine. Something about this film feels familiar and if you have ever seen Jeff Bridges in Starman it almost feels like the two films should be connected somehow.
There’s an art to not putting too fine a point on something, And Nichols is coming very close to mastering it. Some early scenes and plot points don’t click until later in the film, and then, the way they fit is often underplayed; they become private, personal discoveries for the viewer. Shannon, best known for playing weirdos and crazies, is uniquely good at playing restrained everyman, and he inhabits the role of Roy as a man of unspoken internal conflicts and complicated feelings.
Is he an alien? An angel? An NSA weapon? We spend most of the film trying to figure it out. One of the mindbending yet satisfying elements of this film is that you find yourself wondering about things like whether heaven isn’t just another intelligence-gathering agency, with God the ultimate surveillance device.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” says Alton late in the film. “I like worrying about you,” responds Roy poignantly, possibly defining the whole film in a single line of dialogue. One can take issue with Midnight Special’s climax which leaves the viewer with most questions unanswered.
Midnight Special is provocative and persuasively strange and that makes it worth seeing. At it’s core this film is about a mystery that may have no answer and I’m actually fine with that. In light of all the big budget comic book sci fi films set to dominate this summer it’s good to watch something that wants to be intelligent and make you think and not just wow you with laser beams.