MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton.
While it is considered rather corny to include scenes of heaven in films, a popular theme in science fiction books and films has always been the idea of life on other planets or the possibility of parallel worlds. Both of these concepts are an angel’s wing away from heaven.
Back in the 1950s as the world was reeling after World War II, the Holocaust and the atomic bomb, movie screens were filled with films about UFOs and stories of other planets. Not only could aliens take our minds off of our troubles but occasionally – as in Robert Wise’s 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still – they could bring us a thoughtful lesson on how to move towards peace rather than war. In our anxiety-ridden post-9/11 culture, we need films of hope as well.
As the movie begins we observe two men in a motel room preparing to leave in a Chevelle with an 8-year-old boy (Jaeden Lieberher), identified on a televised Amber Alert as Alton Meyer. The child goes willingly into the car with the men. We then cut away to a congregational meeting of what appears to be a religious cult and hear nonsensical scriptures being read. Alton has been taken away from their community and they want him back. Suddenly, the FBI raids the meeting and loads the worshipers into buses. Who is this boy? Who are these men? And why do so many people want to get their hands on Alton Meyer?
Alton seems to have otherworldly powers. By the time we meet his parents (Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst), a different kind of Nativity story begins to unfold as the family attempts to protect Alton from the forces of evil and take him to the place where his mission will be fulfilled. Like Jesus, Alton is on the run from religious and political leaders while still a child.
The movie is obviously inspired by such 80s films as Close Encounters of the Same Kind, Starman, and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial. Although the film takes place in contemporary America, the set design is all 1980s, with CRT televisions, old cars, and pay phones.
Midnight Special is a film with something to say, but I am convinced that most viewers will walk out of the theater with alternative ideas about the story they’ve just watched on screen. Director-writer Jeff Nichols challenges us to put the pieces together. The posters present this as a family film, but I would not want to have to discuss this with any child younger than a precocious middle-schooler. But, of course, I would definitely look forward to that discussion.
I fear that in this age of big-budget extravaganzas, a small film like Midnight Special will remain unseen. I encourage you to seek it out. The best storytellers show rather than tell. Midnight Special is filled with memorable images and interesting characters. You may not totally understand this movie (I know that I still have a lot of questions) but you will find yourself thinking about it days later.
Four halos: A thoughtful meditation on faith and family.
One pitchfork: Mild violence; a few mild swear words.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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