Midnight Special can be divided into two halves separated by an abrupt plot shift that robs the film of its potential. The overall concept it laid out during the first half of the film vanished somewhere in the middle, taking with it the build-up of intrigue and mystery.
Oh By Darndest, It Was The Light!
The film does a great job with intriguing the viewer. We wonder why Alton, Roy, and Lucas are running. We wonder why the cult leader wants Alton back. We wonder who Roy is in relation to the boy, and who, or what, is the boy. We wonder where they are going, and the most crucial question of them all, why? The why is the foundation of the plot, and it’s a question that never gets answered.
Let’s rewind a bit, back to where we left off in the previous post. The suspense had built up to this point – Alton’s nose and ears bled, his breathing failing, his face looked like death – up to the point where Alton’s destination was right around the corner. He fell onto the grass and it died around him. The urgency was there, so much so that even the grass felt it.
This is when I came to the realization: Alton’s powers are too much for humans as a species, and thus he’s deteriorating. This realization is what made me love the movie up until this point. This could easily be used to explain why it’s an uncommon phenomenon and why adults never have these powers. This realization tied with the sense of urgency only leaves one question lingering: What could they be trying to accomplish before Alton dies?
Ends up I can accidentally create better plot points than they can.
This was the plot shift I mentioned at the beginning. They find some random hole in the ground that leads to some mini-cave? Disregarding that, we learn here that Alton will die in the sun, and thus they will wait out the daylight of the upcoming day. This explains the cardboard on the windows and the night driving throughout the movie.
The problem arises when Alton insists on going out during daylight. So dawn comes, and…
Roy and Alton show up at the motel where Lucas and Alton’s mother, Sarah Tomlin, is staying while waiting for them. They show up during the day, which surprises Lucas and Sarah. Alton now looks much better. He’s no longer dying, and now he knows that he’s from a different world that’s built on top of their world.
That sounds a little too abrupt, but it actually is that abrupt. I call it a plot shift because the plot does exactly that – it shifts in its seat a little, stares into your eyes, and slaps you. The suspense came to a screeching halt, and the plot was forced toward a different direction entirely.
Think about it. After the entire first half of the movie: Daylight was all this kid needed.
It’s All In The Numbers!
The plot now focuses on getting Alton to a certain location by a certain time so he can go home. How do they know where and when, though?
Well, it’s all in the numbers! The numbers that Alton was hearing when he was with the cult. The numbers that the religious cult deemed as the end of times after hearing them from Alton, their savior. The numbers that ended up being from an FBI satellite transmission, which somehow translated to Alton and Roy’s destination. Nothing is explained. For half the movie, Paul Sevier is staring at a board full of numbers and then suddenly he circles a few of them and magically knows the where and when of Alton’s destination.
- Why does Alton have to be at a specific place at a specific time, in TWO different instances?
- What’s the relation between these numbers and the coordinates?
- How did Sevier figure out where Alton was going?
Throughout the movie, the past is barely scratched. Alton’s time at the cult’s Ranch is mentioned but only as a brief history into Alton’s schooling and his aversion to light. Alton used to go to school during the day like everyone else, but then strange things started happening regarding Alton’s supernatural abilities. Alton started being schooled during the night, presumably to protect the other students, and thus his day/night cycle was flipped around and he slept during the day instead. This is all we get, and it doesn’t take long before you wonder where the missing pieces are and how everything fits together.
- Why was Alton adopted? This is especially questionable knowing that Roy was watching them.
- What exactly happened between Alton, Roy, and Sarah? Why was Sarah living on her own somewhere else?
- If Alton was dying while living in the dark, how did his parents not piece two-and-two together since he used to live in the light like everyone else?
- Why did the cult leader completely disappear from the plot?
The cult leader sent out two goons to get the boy back in the beginning of the film, and eventually we see them take the boy. Long story short, Sevier brings Alton back to Roy, Sarah, and Lucas, and nothing was added to or changed about the plot. The cult and the FBI were pushed to the backburner, and the focus was completely on Alton, Roy, Sarah, and Lucas making their way to their destination. The plot became a shallow mess, and it’s perplexing to say the least.
The Ending Can’t Help The Plot
Ignoring the fact that the biological human parents gave birth to a half-light-being child, let’s take a look at the ending. (With all due respect Midnight Special, it’s not even worth dissecting that obvious birthing flaw.)
So here they are. After all the trouble Roy, Sarah, and Lucas went through, Alton ends up with his kind. Considering that Lucas gets off fine with Sevier’s help, let me rephrase that: Roy and Sarah’s lives are ruined only for Alton to disappear in alien-like wonder. Roy is in prison and Sarah is a fugitive. After seeing the bond between them, it’s hard for me to feel like this is fine.
Let me explain: So after Alton found out he could live in the daylight like everyone else, and control his powers so he could live with everyone else, and probably live happily with his biological parents (which is quite the blessing, first of all), he decides to leave his parents distraught and ruined while he lives among these pure-light-beings. The film simply just doesn’t give any real, tangible reasons for me to sympathize for the child at this point.
Perhaps it’s for the simple reason that Alton didn’t feel like he belonged. This is most likely the case considering the only other justification I can think of is maybe the director tried to justify it with Alton’s adoption history. Alton and his parents weren’t always together, so perhaps it was enough to warrant Alton leaving them. But either way, what an emotional mess of an ending.
Ironically, I actually do like this ending, or at least the idea of these parents sacrificing so much for their child. The second half of the movie is what makes the ending questionable, but it has the somber ending I was hoping for while I was watching the first half. The problems with the plot is what ends up ruining the ending for me.
Ideas and Backbones
They have a backbone of an idea here: There’s an unseen world built upon Earth. I’m intrigued by this unexplored plot point; what can really be done with this idea?
For instance: If there’s an unseen world built upon Earth, what are the chances it’s all-inclusive? What if this unseen world containing these light-beings accidentally contaminates the planet they built upon; perhaps it’s simply an unavoidable byproduct of building atop other worlds. This is a rare occurrence, but when it does occur, the result is someone like Alton. The human body cannot handle such power, and thus deteriorates at a young age, essentially acting as a new, unknown parasite of sorts.
Heck, there could have even been an interesting, new spin on the apocalyptic genre in there somewhere (such as building upon other worlds slowly destroys it). The point, however, is that this skeleton idea alone solves so many of the plot’s issues. Take this idea, have the child be with his biological parents, and scrap the cultist.
Of course this idea of mine isn’t without its flaws (disregarding that this plot would require a tremendous budget), but it could easily have been the supporting plot behind the transition between the first half and the second half of the film. I like the concept of a world being built upon another, and I love the general concept of some supernatural benefit at some cost. The moment I *thought* I knew what was going down when the grass died was a great moment for me, only to be followed by confusion.
By no means is the first half perfect, but it manages to build something much stronger than the second half could utilize. The sudden plot shift was a lot to take in, and too many questions went unanswered. The concepts were there, but I feel the wrong approach was taken.
Midnight Special is a great concept of a film that turns into a shallow mess of a plot.