Movie titles usually have a clear relationship with the film's plot or characters, but sometimes the title doesn't relate to the content at all, and, other times, the movie title may seem irrelevant, but actually has clever, less-than-obvious connections to what the film is about. The science fiction film "Midnight Special" (PG-13, 1:52) represents that last situation, and the Movie Fan Facebook Page staff has done the research, uncovered the connections and brings them to you below (without spoilers, of course).
The name "Midnight Special" has multiple meanings in American history and popular culture -' and more than one of them relate to this movie. For starters, "Midnight Special" is a folk song, which has been around in one form or another for over 100 years. It was popularized by folk and blues musician Huddie William "Lead Belly" Ledbetter in the 1930s and made even more famous by Creedence Clearwater Revival with their 1969 cover. In the most widespread versions of the song, Midnight Special is a train and the chorus asks the train to "shine your ever-loving light on me" (or, "ever-living" in other versions).
The main character in this movie shoots light from his eyes, and it's a light that could be understood as corresponding with the song's lyrics in several different ways. But before (and apart from) the train in the song, the name Midnight Special referred to a passenger train that used to run between Chicago and St. Louis, with one of its stops being in Alton, Illinois. In the film "Midnight Special", the main character's name is... Alton! So, now that you know the story of the title, let's set up the story of the... uh, story.
Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) is a handsome, polite and intelligent 8-year-old boy, but he's also much more. His eyes sometimes emit strong beams of light and people who lock eyes with those beams feel as if they have had a spiritual revelation. He also has abilities that allow him to affect the functioning of mechanical and electronic systems and receive and reproduce radio transmissions and even encrypted digital communications. All of this means that Alton is a boy of great interest to many different people.
Alton's parents are Roy and Sarah (Michael Shannon and Kirsten Dunst) who, at the time of the boy's birth, were living in a religious compound (which is called "the ranch" and is made to look like the rural central Texas Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' YFZ Ranch, which was raided by Texas law enforcement in 2008). When Alton was six, the compound's leader, Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard) took Alton from his parents and legally adopted him. Heartbroken, Sarah left the organization, while Roy stayed at the ranch to keep an eye on Alton... until he felt that he had to escape -' with Alton.
Calvin Meyer and his followers perceived young Alton's powers, especially his channeling of external communications, as prophesy. To the people at the ranch, the boy was a messiah figure and he became central to their community's religious life. To, the federal government, Alton is a threat to national security. The NSA sends Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) to the ranch to find out how a little boy gained access to classified information. To Roy, Alton is simply his son -' and a unique boy who needs protecting.
With the help of Lucas (Joel Edgerton), Roy's former childhood friend and current state trooper, Roy and Alton take to the road, desperately trying to evade those other interested parties, which are in hot pursuit of the fugitive trio. Roy and Lucas are trying to reunite Alton with his mother and then get him to a very specific location at a specific date and time where something important is supposed to happen. Unfortunately, besides being hunted by some very determined cult leaders and the federal government, Alton seems as if he's being tortured by his powers -' while also apparently getting very, very sick.
There are three things you should understand about the plot that I just described. (1) There are no spoilers here because I haven't said anything about why Alton is so different or what happens to the various characters as the plot develops and the story ultimately reaches a resolution. (2) Just getting to the level of the story that I've laid out takes the movie a long time. A lot is happening, but you don't understand much of what you're seeing until 20-30 minutes into the movie. (3) The movie never does its audience the courtesy of explaining why the h--- (heck) (or how) all this stuff happens -' even in the end! "Midnight Special" is one of the most frustrating movies I've seen in a long time. I really expected to like it, but Jeff Nichols' half-baked writing and directing made that impossible. From the first moments of the film, I felt like I was dropped in the middle of a story -' and left to fend for myself. When the story does finally come together (kind of), there are some good action scenes and the acting is strong throughout, but Nichols refuses to make clear why the story's developments are taking place, or why we should care.
This film includes elements of movies like "Powder" (1995), "Phenomena" (1996), "Michael" (1996), "K-PAX" (2001) and "Tomorrowland" (2015), while trying to be a 21st century version of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) or "E.T." (1982). This movie feels, at times, like it could have been directed by Steven Spielberg (who made those last two movies) -' if Spielberg were drunk. His sci-fi films actually make sense. There are some very special movies in that list I just gave.
Review by Dave McClain from the Internet Movie Database.