Writer/director Jeff Nichols’ newest film, “Midnight Special,” is just as ambiguous as the title suggests. The entire film is an interpret-it-as-you-will story that is very open to whatever the audience feels it means. It takes a lot of mental digesting to figure out the meaning of the story of a boy with weird, special powers being “kidnapped” by his parents and his father’s childhood friend.
The film begins in the middle of the action, which never stops. During the film, not much background information is given on the characters or the situation at hand. However, this is what makes “Midnight Special” unique and sets it apart from other films.
Some of the stars of the film, Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Jaeden Lieberher, gave a press conference at New York City over spring break. All the stars attended the media day, except for Adam Driver. They were able to give some new insight into the characters and story, which helped the film make more sense. If you do not pay complete attention, you will get lost or miss a significant detail or expression.
Most of the film’s interpretation comes from the actors’ emotions, not from the dialogue. The most significant moments cannot be heard. They are only seen.
Nichols said that his work for “Midnight Special” is “the leanest script I have ever written.” He purposefully wrote in this style to keep the film feeling natural. “In a script, you have two things to work with. You have lines of action and lines of dialogue, both of which are behavior. The way your body language is moving into a room, that’s written in the lines of action.”
Nichols went on to say that writers do not put backstory in the action because it would not be seen and thinks the same should apply to dialogue. He also feels that “it’s this kind of temperance as a writer that, as much as I might want to inject the backstory or the history or some cool anecdote into the scene, I don’t get to if it’s not something you would naturally say. It was just really a style of writing that suited the genre. It suited the development of mystery.”
The cast praised Nichols’ minimalistic approach to the film. Shannon, who has starred in each of Nichols’ films, said, “The thing I always appreciate about Jeff’s writing is that he creates a situation, and even though none of the characters have big, flowery speeches in which they are able to explain their innermost thoughts, he creates such an interesting and complex situation to live in as an actor.”
Lieberher loved the natural feel to the film. “Jeff, he’s a very unique director and he has just amazing ideas and an amazing imagination. And so, it seemed that he made this movie naturally, and so I was just very drawn to that,” Lieberher said.
Edgerton also praised the script, calling it “a true page turner.” He was excited by the lack of backstory and said he would rather define characters by their actions rather than their dialogue.
Edgerton also appreciated how well the characters were written. “Jeff has paid very careful attention to drawing these characters very carefully, and I think, because of that, even [for] the small characters in his films, you feel like you know them. And because you know them, they feel more abundant and significant as people than sometimes the hero of a flimsy movie.”
This all played a role in Nichols’ natural, realistic approach to filmmaking. Naturally, he believes that everything needs to be as realistic as possible to make it more believable.
Overall, the film is a balance of science fiction and family drama. Nichols balanced the genre by using specific emotions to tie everything together. The whole film builds up to one point, which Dunst said wound up being the cathartic moment of the film.
Lieberher said this pivotal scene was the toughest part of the shoot for him because, “I had to show an emotion that I have never experienced before. I have experienced something close to it, but something like that is so hard to deal with in real life that it’s hard to portray with acting.”
The other actors all agreed that the emotional aspect of the film was part of the appeal of the script.
In the end, “Midnight Special” sets itself apart through beautiful writing that allowed the actors to portray freely their characters through emotions and actions with minimalistic dialogue.
The beauty of “Midnight Special” is that it is different. Even if you are not sure what the overall meaning of the film is, it is still an enjoyable ride. It will take some effort to decipher the messages of the film, but it is worth the headache to watch a film that breaks the mold.