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“Midnight Special” is something special. It’s a hard-to-categorize, sorta-sci-fi movie about a desperate father, a desperate mother, a desperate preacher, and a desperate government, and at the center of all that desperation is a preternatural 8-year-old boy.
The movie starts with one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen in years, maybe since “Drive.” We’re thrust into the midst of a tense kidnapping, by whom we’re not at all sure, and from whom we’re equally in the dark. And we’re quite literally in the dark as well, since this is a nighttime abduction.
Two hyper-vigilant but nervous men are careening down a darkened highway with a young boy in the backseat of their car. Despite the tension swirling around him, the boy is oddly complacent, hiding under a blanket, reading comics with a flashlight. As these men furiously try to elude someone or something, the men hit on an ingenious use of night-vision goggles to facilitate their escape. The scene ends with their car heading straight ahead, into the darkness.
A sense of foreboding permeates the entire movie as we gradually piece together people’s relationships to each other and their various backstories.
Key, of course, is 8-year-old Alton.
“What do you know about Alton Meyer?”
“Things would break. Cars would shut down. That kind of thing.”
“Did he show you things?
“What kinds of things?”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“We need to know where he is.”
The mystery of Alton is also the mystery of the movie. He seems to have some kind of power or abilities that certainly are not normal, maybe not even human. At the same time, he’s clearly not well, maybe even dying. To the preacher, he’s a seer, maybe even a savior. To the feds, he’s a threatening unknown, maybe even a weapon. And to his separated parents, he’s their child, their responsibility, maybe even their sacrifice.
By movie’s end, one last layer is placed on top of all these other conflicting versions/visions.
The movie’s finale is perhaps too literal for its own good. But if you choose to interpret the very literal conclusion metaphorically, as I do, the movie retains its power and its mystery.
The night-vision goggles used in the film’s opening scene serve as a nice metaphor for the movie itself. Both allow us to see things that would otherwise go undetected.
Ultimately, what “Midnight Special” wants to do is give us a glimpse into the human condition.