The polar opposite of Melancholia.
It’s been three weeks after The Event of the year 2049. Augustine (George Clooney) is the sole occupant of an abandoned Arctic base, his time spent enduring periodic mechanized blood treatments to keep a terminal illness at bay. At the same time, Sully (Felicity Jones) is one of five astronauts on board the Aether, a spacecraft returning to Earth after confirming a newly discovered moon of Jupiter capable of sustaining human life. When the ship’s link to global communications goes down, the crew has no idea of the catastrophe they are returning to, and the clock is ticking. Augustine must journey across the snow-packed landscape to another station with a more powerful antenna to warn the Aether mission away… an effort complicated by the abrupt appearance of an abandoned child (Caoilinn Springall) who turns up on the Arctic base at the worst possible moment.
It’s like Underwater meets 2010 meets The Wandering Earth minus 99% of the action sequences. Directed by and starring George Clooney based upon the book Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the story alternates between the desolate Earth and a clueless crew in space to highlight human moments in time. With top-notch special effects and spacious settings, the slow-burn story takes its time and metes out reveals with cold precision. With long stretches between wins and dashed with introspective vignettes into people’s lives, is this film meant to be a dire warning or a wake for the human race?
Not exactly “a beautiful story about the end of the world,” The Midnight Sky finds hope where it can but is ultimately a downer (minor spoiler): humanity is pretty much doomed no matter how long the film continues past the credits. It’s important knowing this going in; the story is both too mysterious for its own good yet falls into typical sci-fi tropes like an old glove. Not to undermine the gorgeous photography or intense acting, this Christmas release echoes the revelation of Ebenezer Scrooge clutching his headstone: “Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
The end credits are shown over characters going about their business, as if nothing has really changed. Are they good with what happened, dreading it, or as indifferent as they appear? The biggest negative is not knowing exactly what The Event actually was other than a nonspecific global catastrophe essentially poisoning the Earth beyond repair within the lifetime of those living upon it. In the 2011 Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia, the end of the world is a full-blown and glorious foregone conclusion through no fault of anyone, stretching back in time to a chronically depressed Justine gaining peace of mind in the world’s end as happy-go-lucky Claire falls apart. In contrast, the revelations in Midnight Sky appear thin, as if everyone long ago accepted their fates and are criminally indifferent.
It’s clear that at least one element of this film is meant as a dire warning. Like surging storms, record numbers of hurricanes, and global pandemics, life on Earth often feels like it isn’t if Mother Nature will have her revenge on foolish humans but when. As presented here, global catastrophe is a footnote, a catalyst to a handful of characters brought together in circumstance as much as happenstance, as if projecting empty emotions upon hopeful viewers is all that’s left before Porky Pig appears to say, “That’s all, folks!”
The Midnight Sky is rated PG-13 for some bloody images, brief strong language, and not skimping on antidepressants before watching this.
Two skull recommendation out of four