Midnight Special is an intriguing familial story that asks amazing questions and gets us to consider "What If". IMDB
I get MAYBE, five fantastic movies a year that just brings me unbridled joy to bring to you. And interestingly, those five movies probably bring me 50% of my web traffic too. The movies I fall in love with are the ones that blowup my stats. It just works out that way. I find sleeper movies that may or may not have done very well at the box office but are absolutely brilliant finds that most of you have never heard of. Movies like The One I Love, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Survivalist and others, definitely get my juices flowing. Welp, today I have the movie of the year for you. Midnight Special. Movie of the year basically just means that it’s a movie that make you really think and consider what is going on in the film. The deeper implications of what might really be going on. That is my own definition of what makes a movie good, something that allows us to discuss the heck out of it here! haha. Movie Midnight Special Explained and Reviewed…
Midnight Special – Spoiler Free – Overview
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, (which is practically no one because the box office has been surprisingly abysmal, $3.4 million after two weeks of wide distribution?!?) don’t worry. I won’t spoil it for you… yet. I’ll tell you when to scram in a minute. But for now you are safe. Probably a safe place to start would be the trailer. Always a great way to get a general feeling for where a movie is going. But I highly recommend your watching the film at one of these links right here:
So, we have a kid with special powers? And a parent that wants to keep him safe from the government and some other less clear powers. It’s a movie in the form and feel of E.T. maybe? Which is a comparison that I don’t really like much, but the marketing arm for this movie just keeps making. I personally liken it more to Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s movie about a boy and his father, than I do to ET. But if you blend the two – and drop in a modest dollop of what… Upstream Color. Yeah, I’m going to dollop in some Upstream Color just because I can. And then you shake, but not stir, that unholy troika … and voila, you have Midnight Special. I think. hahah.
The acting is a pile of top notch performance delivered by Jaeden Lieberher who plays Alton – our enigmatic and curious plot driver – Michael Shannon (Alton’s Father), Kirsten Dunst (who has a smaller but no less significant and powerful role here as Alton’s mother), Joel Edgerton who plays Lucas, and finally Kylo Ren, I mean, Adam Driver, who plays the dark lord, Paul Sevier from the NSA. Each one of these actors HAD to hit their marks for this film to work, and they really did do a fantastic job doing just that.
It is a compelling story in it’s own right. Take away the sci-fi aspects and you really do still have a good movie on your hands. But you know what? Add the science fiction? And you have a great movie on your hands. Fantastic characters. Great writing. Compelling motivators and conflict. Fantastic movie. (Can you tell I’m struggling to say more without spoiling it? Yeah. I’m thinking you non-viewers probably need to go now. HAhahha.)
Spoiler Filled Midnight Special Walkthrough
Alright, yeah, I have said this twice now… but I really do mean this… if you haven’t seen this movie, go see it. But leave. Bookmark please, and come back later. But whatever you do, don’t keep reading! I’m going to filet this film and lay out the inner workings of this movie across the table for us to discuss. Ok? Great. So yeah. move along.
Now that we have the ground rules squared. Let’s talk through the plot at a very high level just in case some of you didn’t grasp the order or the layout of the basics.
Midnight Special Events Overview
The movie opens with an Amber Alert canvassing the south and the larger Texas area, and the nearby states. A boy is missing, and he’s probably been taken by his biological father from a place called the Ranch. We learn quickly that the Ranch is a cult like religious environment that has been worshipping and listening to the prophecies of Alton, even going so far as to flip their services to the night time because Alton can’t be out during the day.
When we catch up with Alton and his dad, Roy, they are joined by one of Roy’s childhood friends Lucas and the three are doing everything in their power to get as far away from the Ranch as they can. This is complicated by the fact that they are only able to travel by night because of Alton’s ‘condition’.
The Ranch responds to Roy’s kidnapping of Alton by sending two guys out to get Alton back. Apparently, Alton is the key to their salvation… and that judgment was coming in four days time.
The NSA and the FBI are also inbound, and are very very interested in Alton because of the NSA’s tracking of Doak’s sermons which are quoting sensitive and encrypted military satellite transmissions. And on top of that, every single local authority and policeman in the area had been notified of Roy’s last known location, and what he looks like on every locally run news channel.
So from the very start of the movie, the odds are stacked against the trio. And to make matters worse, Alton is getting sick. Something is wrong with him. And all this running definitely isn’t helping. Oh, and the satellites he’s bringing out of the sky? That’s probably not helping him much either. Eventually they make it to Sarah Tomlin’s house – Roy’s estranged wife, and Alton’s biological mother. And soon the four of them are moving together trying to get to a mysterious destination that they never discuss, but is obviously their first and foremost priority.
And as Alton begins to slowly come completely unglued, coughing, spraying light out of his eyes, jibbering in radio host spanish… it isn’t looking good.
Alton decides that he and Roy need to head out across the plains together. Lucas and Sarah continue onwards to a hotel and wait for their arrival. Meanwhile, Roy and Alton take shelter in a cave that Alton found, but decides that he wanted to be awake for the daytime… that something important needed to happen.
So, over Alton’s father’s objections, the two head out to watch the sunrise. Craziness ensues, (lights from eyes, earth quaking, etc) and later Roy and Alton arrive at the hotel, with Alton looking right as rain. The bags under his eyes are gone and he is able to look at the sun now. And now it’s time to head out again after some rest, in order to get closer to the final destination that Alton needs to get to.
But as they step out onto the balcony, Lucas is shot in the chest by the two Ranch members sent to get Alton back. The zip-tie everyone up to keep them from coming after them, and then take off with Alton with a pillowcase over his head. The trio get un-tied and then take off to get Alton back from the Ranch abductors. But before they catch up to them, they come upon a spot where they watch a helicopter take off, and the car of the Ranch members soaked in blood. So Alton is gone, the Rancher abductors are dead, and the NSA now has the boy. Probably where Midnight Special gets most of it’s likening to E.T., the government begins its interrogation and study of Alton.
But it’s Alton that is calling all the shots in this interrogation. Alton tells everyone that he will only speak to Paul Sevier. Soon enough (ie. immediately after zero questions are answered) Alton loops the monitoring video feed and unlocks the door. Alton tells Paul that they’ll be leaving now, at which time he carjacks a Prius and overloads the entire base’s electrical circuits and allowing them to head on their way.
Meanwhile, Roy, Sarah and Lucas are completely lost as to what to do now. Roy is convinced that they’ll never see Alton again. And then a pay phone just across the way starts ringing. Then the one next to it starts ringing, and then they are all ringing. It’s Paul, telling them to meet Alton and himself at a specific location. Paul hands over Alton, and asks to tag along. Roy tells him no. Sevier asks for Lucas’ handcuffs so as to not appear to be in on the plot. And then, just like that, the game is afoot again.
The very last section is straightforward enough… the four coconspirators are trying to get to a very specific Geo-location that the government now knows because Paul Sevier figured out the signal from the noise and passed it off to the government agencies originally looking for Alton. Now the problem is, how do they get Alton into that location without being caught by the government? Well, they have Alton, remember? And he tips them to a single road that isn’t very well guarded, and they bum-rush the checkpoint.
After colliding with the jeeps and the tire strips, they keep going. Eventually Sarah and Alton jump out of the car, and Lucas and Roy keep going to call the government off Alton’s trail. Alton and Sarah head out into the field, and Alton basically detonates a 4 state radius psychic mushroom cloud that opens up our world to this other observant world which allows humans to temporarily see into this other temporal reality. Futuristic silver skyscrapers dot the horizon and soon these others, watch Alton as he is ushered back “home”. The temporal window collapses and that leaves us with Roy, Lucas heading to jail. In an interesting turn of events it is Sevier who is doing the interviewing of Alton’s father and Lucas. And that leaves us with Alton’s mother, Sarah, running for it… dying her hair and escaping off into the horizon on her own again.
Midnight Special Explained
Above, I walked you through the barebones of the basics of the movie. But what does it all mean? Well, to get at the layer beneath the obvious-ness, we need to talk about a few of the details in the movie that I didn’t discuss above.
Midnight Special & The Ranch
The single biggest vein of questions I get over and over again about Midnight Special definitely centers on The Ranch. Before the movie even begins, The Ranch has already been playing an enormous part in the culmination of this movie and the driver for the plot. The Ranch was definitely there before Alton was born, his parents probably met there, and married. They then had Alton – and immediately noticed he wasn’t normal. Doak took Alton as his own son, as was probably customary for all children born at The Ranch. Roy stayed close to Alton, and watched over him perpetually. Sarah on the other hand gets fed up with Cult life, and takes off. Thus the closeness between Alton and Roy. Thus the reason I think this movie is more like Boyhood than any other movie that comes to mind.
Doak and the elders of The Ranch realized Alton had prophetic capabilities (at least, what they think are prophetic anyway, I’ll get to that later) and began using him for that purpose… even going so far as to reschedule their services for the middle of the night, when Alton could be up and about. Well, Doak and the elders of The Ranch begin to ascertain that an important date is coming, and the surmise that it is the End of Days – the Tribulation prophesied about in Revelation. The Judgement. And they even believe that without Alton, the members of The Ranch won’t be saved. Thus their determination to get him back as quickly as possible. When the movie starts they only have 4 days left.
Midnight Special and Alton’s Prophecies
Which brings us to Alton’s prophecies. They aren’t exactly prophecies as we learned pretty early on. Alton is actually a human radio receiver that is capable of amazing feats of decryption and cyphering. We see him mimic the sounds of Spanish radio. We hear from Sevier that Alton was decrypting and communicating highly secure transmissions from military and NSA satellites. He even was able to bring down satellite DSP9712, a satellite originally tasked with tracking nuclear missile launches after Alton realized that it was tracking him personally. So The Ranch was a little off base on their belief that Alton was prophesying… although, that isn’t necessarily true, Alton was receiving communications from other beings… but we’ll get to that in the theories section below.
Midnight Special – What’s With The Numbers?
Throughout the entirety of the movie we get lots and lots of numbers thrown at us. Some of them are identified and explained and others are just left out there bouncing around without much context. One of my favorite quotes in this vein was from Paul who said, “Do Meridian Alpha, Red Saber mean anything to you?” These were all top secret government campaigns that alton had uncovered unwittingly (or wittingly… either one.)
Here are two of the key numbers we get early on in the opening of the movie; “35 47 97 52” & “53 23 77 127”. And even Paul Sevier gets caught up in the numbers and the locations that Alton is pulling out of the air. Once Paul realizes that Alton was just a conduit for military secrets and other random bits of trivia, he starts to look for patterns in the numbers to learn where exactly Alton is going.
Midnight Special Overarching Timeline
Roy and Sarah join the cult independently
Roy and Sarah meet at The Ranch & marry
The couple have a male child, and name him Alton
The quickly realize he isn’t normal
Alton is adopted by Doak Meyer – he’s now Alton Meyer
All children are taken as children of Meyer at The Ranch
Sarah gets fed up with the cult and flees
Roy stays with Alton and watches over him
Doak decides Alton’s prophecies are key
They move services to the night time for him
With the coming “Judgement” Roy decides he’s had enough
Roy flees with Alton to protect him
The NSA is investigating into the sermons and transmissions of classified material
NSA begins interrogating members of the cult
The Ranch sends two people to get Alton back
They get him, only to lose him to the government soon after
Alton and Paul leave, and head back to Roy and Sarah
Sarah and Alton arrive at the critical location
Alton is taken to his one real home
NSA/Sevier continue investigating what happened
One of the key outstanding questions that still lingers for me is how Paul Sevier figures out, from the numbers within the prophecies, where Alton is going. We see Paul circle a few numbers on the board… but otherwise, we get nothing on that front. We just have to assume there is a pattern here somewhere that we aren’t privy to. And the final question I haven’t 100% fully wrapped my brain around? …
Midnight Special – Who Are The Others?
This movie is 100% about Alton and who he is. We learn that he isn’t normal, that he has powers that normal humans do not have. And that belongs somewhere else. One of the most important details explaining who the others are is within a conversation between Paul Sevier and Alton:
Paul – “They believe you are a weapon”
Alton – “I’m not”
Paul – “And The Ranch thinks you are their savior.”
Alton – “I’m not any of those things. I belong to a different world, there are people there, they watch us. And have been watching us for a very long time.”
Alton – “I need to go where I belong.”
So, from this conversation we learn that these others, they are a race of extra-temporal beings that spend their time watching humans for some reason. They live here on planet earth with us, and can see through the veil between our world and theirs.
Midnight Special – What’s It Really About?
Jeff Nichols is known for not caring a lick about comprehension and ease of understanding. When asked during the PR tour if he’d thrown story out the air lock, Jeff responded with, “I didn’t create this to have a kind of plot concision. That’s just never been a priority.” So we from a comprehension standpoint, Nichols first priority was our fully understanding it. It has even been said that the point of the loose ends is to ask us a question, “Why is it so important for us to know?” why do we want so badly to wrap up the errant details? Well, you know what? I have a theory to what it’s all about… ‘Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky…
Midnight Special Movie Theories
So, as always, I’ve got a couple theories on what this movie is really all about. Knowing that Nichols first directive wasn’t to make it clear, it looks like we have a TON of space to work in here. So I’m going out to three point land in order to come up with some innovative and interesting theories as to what is going on. I have my favorite, but you going to have to guess… and of course, I’d like to hear your theories as well.
Collective Hallucination Theory of Midnight Special
The Collective Hallucination theory of Midnight Special is sort of a last gasp theory that started small and logically expanded exponentially the further I thought about it. This theory is just that for some reason Alton is suffering from a hallucinatory delusion… which also effects those near him. The Ranch… effected. The NSA. The FBI. Roy, Lucas, Sarah… all effected. Causes them to see Alton as a powerful extraterrestrial that has prophetic visions that come from our global satellite network? The only way that could even make sense is if someone were slipping everyone in the movie LSD in their coffee. Or, we could 180 degrees, and make a Jacob’s Ladder play here and say that everyone is dead? No. This is an awful, awful theory. Sorry for even mentioning it.
The Secret Service Theory of Midnight Special
Throughout the movie, we hear a couple of times about how the… what do we call them (anyone have a name for them? The light sticks? The others… used too many times. The orbs! I’m going with the Orbs), how the Orbs watch us, and how they have been watching us for a “very long time.” Well, in this version of how the movie went down… the Orbs have been watching the humans and have tapped out what is possible to learn by just watching. And so they decide to infiltrate the human world by sending a child to earth that carries both orbness, and humanness. A mixed race child? Then that allows them to experience both being a human, as well as a first person perspective about what it means to be a human on earth.
The Ascension Theory of Midnight Special
The Ascension theory takes a queue from the Secret Service theory, that a boy was accidentally (or more likely intentionally) born of two worlds. Our world, and this other another orb-world. And with that in mind, Alton is obviously a Christ figure supernatural, and natural simultaneously. He ruffles the feathers of the religious institution that becomes infatuated with him, his knowledge, and his utterances. They decide that they must have him back, in their confines, and under their ‘protection’, otherwise he should be dead.
Alton experiences his own sort of death while in the field with his father as they watch the sunrise together. This rebirth is what saves him, and allows him to really understand who he really is. Death and rebirth is an obvious picture of Christ, his death at the hands of the Pharisees and resurrection three days later.
And then the ending? I believe that the ending is a picture of Christ’s ascension. So, remember the details of the ending… Sarah is watching as Alton is met by other light beings, and is taken up into this other world that filled with beings that watch the earth. And have been watching for a very long time. No? Now, let’s read Acts 1:6-11 and compare the two scenes together. Tell me if they aren’t the spitting image of one another:
“So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
“He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
“After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!””
Come on! The parallels are uncanny. Sarah basically stands there and watches as Alton is carried up on a cloud. Not exactly. But you get my point. This is 100% a picture of the ascension. And Alton is a picture of the Christ. He came to the world, basically died and was reborn. And ultimately returned to where he originally came from. The entirety of Midnight Special is a modern retelling of the Christ story.
Mary gives birth to a child via virgin birth, who goes on to do miracle after miracle. The world comes to despise him and the message that he brings. He is reborn after dying, and then ascends back to the heavenly realm he had originally come from.
No? What are your thoughts and opinions about what Midnight Special was all about? I know I’m wrong, because you guys tell me all the time! hahah. But I’d love to hear from you about what your thoughts are about this movie.
And if you are looking for other movies like Midnight Special? Don’t worry, I got you: