From family feuds (Shotgun Stories) to unrequited love (Mud), the films of Jeff Nichols have often focused on deeply personal relationships and intense emotions. But they also sometimes dabble in genres with larger implications, from the is-it-or-isn’t-it apocalypticism of Take Shelter to, now, the explicit science-fiction/fantasy of his latest film, Midnight Special. Through it all, Nichols has kept his focus on the close and often familial connections between his main characters.
Exclusive: Midnight Special director Jeff Nichols on parental fears and scientists who believe in something greater
“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.
Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2