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Spirituality meets Science-Fiction in Jeff Nichols’, Midnight Special

Spirituality meets Science-Fiction in Jeff Nichols’, Midnight Special October 7, 2016

Thrust into an emotionally daunting parental landscape filled with unprecedented unknowns, Roy and his estranged wife, Sarah, have a major challenge on their hands.  Their son, Alton Meyer, is clearly destined for something as his capacities defy all earthly capabilities.

Alton is not like them.  In fact, he’s not like any of us.

Presented with Alton’s phenomenal capabilities “to wreak destruction or mesmerize people into a state of indescribable euphoria” with the light that emanates from his eyes, Roy and Sarah ambivalently accept that there is something special, something that needs to be protected and possibly something dangerous about their son.

Taking place throughout the Bible Belt, this riveting Sci-Fi thriller, “Midnight Special,” presents the ultimate backdrop to juxtapose supernatural and spiritual metaphors amidst the human condition of surrendering to the “bonds of love and trust, and the nature of faith.”

Right versus wrong, the overarching reach of government in the name of national security, approaching the unknown with fear or love, how we perceive what we don’t understand, labeling according to our internal belief system, and the unwillingness to see from another’s perspective are the compelling themes touched upon by writer and director Jeff Nichols.

Structured as a fast-moving thriller with mystical overtones, “Midnight Special” is Nichols’ fourth film and sets high-stakes for curiosity driven moviegoers who love to ponder life’s impossible questions.

Can you believe in something you don’t fully understand?  What if we’re not alone? What would you do if you knew your child was bound for someplace you couldn’t go?  When do you move away from unyielding religious beliefs that cause harm in the name of goodness?  How far are you willing to take loyalty?  Can a parent ever be ready to fully let go of a child?

And what are you willing to risk for what you believe is right?

In the opening scene, we are introduced to Roy (Michael Shannon), Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and the intensely secretive movements undertaken to quickly get Alton (Jaden Lieberher) to a specific geographical location.

Precisely what will happen at this location is not yet known, but all of the activity to either stop or help Alton arrive indicates something otherworldly is a play.

According to the Third Heaven Ranch, the cult to which Alton’s parents once belonged, members believe Alton “imparts messages from the Divine” and is their savior.  Urged by the ranch leader, Calvin (Sam Shepard), cult followers will stop at nothing to prevent Alton’s arrival at the location and instead want to return him to the ranch.

Confronted by the unparalleled situation of an eight year-old who is able to access and repeat highly technical classified information and intercept secret satellite transmissions, FBI agents assume their usual response. They believe Alton is a national security threat, or weapon, or both, and therefore must be apprehended.  Agents enlist the help of NSA Analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver).  Sevier is smart, driven and likeable, but is as intrigued by Alton as the audience.

Although Roy and Sarah don’t have a clear picture of what will be the end result with Alton upon arrival at the location, they choose to act from a place of love for their child. They trust that something larger than what they can comprehend is taking place.  They infuse discernment and faith into the scenario by letting Alton lead them where he wants to go, where needs to go.

Despite mounting tension from the plight of each group, all are in agreement with one thing.  Alton has an extremely important purpose to fulfill.

However, what that purpose is remains unclear to everyone, even Alton.

With building intensity throughout “Midnight Special,” Dunst, Shannon and Edgerton do not disappoint. As their characters unfold, each delivers a consistently profound performance and our connection to them inevitably solidifies.

One can only imagine how difficult it is to stand within the inner metamorphosis each of them is forced to undergo.   With Alton’s presence, change is constantly taking place. For some change is forward motion, and with others backward.

“When you decide to hold on to your beliefs and continue through the paths of this world without discernment and without even questioning why you do what you do, you will continue being tied to the partiality of your viewpoint. There comes a time when if you truly desire to rise beyond the person you are, you will have to abandon many things.”

For many, Alton serves as a teacher.  And sometimes a teacher is there to teach you a short and valuable lesson. Then the teacher moves on as the only thing which brought him/her into your life was the purpose of the lesson.

The ranch reminds us that clear seeing is not something that will ever happen if it’s clouded by fear. There is nothing that needs to save us.  It is our responsibility to get out of the way of right action that is trying to occur.

With “Midnight Special” we are reminded there is a big difference between talking about courage and living with courage. In keeping with Nichols’ style of asking the audience to lean into their imagination, “Midnight Special” uses the mystery of the unknown to ask the audience to take a risk.

Some of life’s most valuable lessons have to be lived in order to truly be known.

For more information on Midnight Special (PG-13), a Warner Bros. Pictures presentation, in association with Faliro House Productions, a Tri-State Production, “Midnight Special,” premiered in select theatres during Spring 2016 and is now available on DVD.


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