Strange things happen in strange places and small towns breed the most unusual stories.
Alton Meyers (Jaeden Lieberher) is an ordinary boy, until sunrise. At the presence of daylight, his eyes emit a blinding beam of light capable of disabling electrical signals and shifting satellite discs out of orbit. Alton is beyond unique. He is almost inhuman which is why his father Roy (Michael Shannon) has given his life to protecting the boy from the religious cult determined to exploit him. In their eyes, Alton is a Godsend, sent to the ranch to cleanse them of their transgressions and guide them towards a redemptive future.
Unfortunately for Roy, the ranch Pastor (Sam Shepard) isn’t the only person interested and mystified by Alton’s abilities. FBI Agent Sevier (Adam Driver) has also caught wind of Alton’s powers and believes the boy to be a weapon. Driving blind in the dead of night, Roy, and his friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton), take Alton to the home of his mother, Sarah Tomlin (Kirsten Dunst) for refuge. Together, the family must shelter Alton from the forces bent on destroying him.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, “Midnight Special” also stars Paul Sparks, Bill Camp, and Scott Haze. Although the narrative of this sci-fi adventure sounds familiar, the film is certainly unique in its delivery. For one, the script doesn’t waste time meandering on exposition. The film instead, unravels like a locomotive moving at a steady pace, slowly accelerating with each beat. Young Jaeden Lieberher fantastically portrays Alton Meyers, boy wonder, evoking warmth and wonder with the flicker of a smile.
Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton hold their own as Alton’s father and guardian, compromising their morals with every turn for the sake of friendship and love. Kirsten Dunst does well to balance nurture and nature as Sarah slowly loses her son to the universe. Even further, the cinematography seamlessly oscillates between silhouetted nights and sun bathed fields.
Thematically, Roy’s desperation to end Alton’s suffering becomes the driving force of the story. Throughout the film, Alton’s ‘other world’ is kept a mystery. Like Roy and Sarah, the audience is privileged only with the information Alton chooses to tell yet, the film prides itself on not giving too much away. Life, for Alton, serves a much greater purpose. Undoubtedly, Alton’s unveiling comes at a price. He knows that he is different but he is also content. Roy and Sarah, however, are the ones who must decide to let go. The son that they raised is no longer the son they know and with each exposure to the sunlight, he gets weaker. Lucas insists that they take him to a hospital, but Roy knows better. Once committed, Alton will be in the hands of the government and there will be nothing to stop them from dissecting his son into a million pieces. Love and fear then, tangos to and fro as Roy struggles to keep his son alive against the people who are trying to capture them.
Consequently, Roy’s love for Alton trumps any disdain for his son’s peculiarity. Undeniably, Alton is akin to the outsiders that roam within our own world. Strange and unique yet genuinely magnificent to those that know them; their beauty masked by human ignorance.
In a better world, however, more people like Roy would exist. In a better world, more people would relinquish their fears and look beyond abnormalities in the hope of experiencing something greater.