Midnight Special23 Mar 2016
There is plenty to like (Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton, the first act, an imaginative incorporation of the Warren Jeffs-type story, Nichols’ ability to bring emotion to the fore in deceptively simple ways, some great use of darkness) and not like (the third act, Nichols’ continued inability to deliver on promising premises with dramatic endings, a less impressive use of imagery than his work in Take Shelter, an ending that imagines alien landscapes you could see on display in Dubai or Abu-Dhabi right now). Other reviewers have discussed these and other themes admirably. I won’t rehash those things here.
Instead, I’d like to focus on the portrait of fatherhood and father-son relations that this film displays. Nichols shows a beautiful relationship between Alton and Roy. There are times when Roy’s worrying almost crosses into anger, but he quickly recoils. Moments that in most father-son relationships would result in a lecture (or maybe worse) are characterized by a loving look, holding Alton closely, or putting himself in harm’s way to keep Alton safe. I imagine every father hopes to be this kind of a father. Especially if you have a sick or special-needs son, you hope to provide this sort of protection and love for him. Rarely, though, do most fathers see themselves live up to this standard. With this amount of consistency. Rightfully, we don’t get too many flashbacks into Roy or Alton’s lives, but the way they are with each other, I couldn’t help but imagine this is how they’ve always been.
There is another kind of father in this film, namely the character played by Sam Shepard. This more authoritarian, distant version of a father is someone we’re more used to seeing. But I’m glad Nichols stuck with the depiction of Roy as fully loving and committed, instead of compromising him for the sake of realism.