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The Midnight Sky tells the story of what happens to a few groups of people after a catastrophic event on Earth in the year 2049. Space crews have been searching for years for a safe new place to inhabit, and they’ve discovered that K-23, one of Jupiter’s moons, is indeed the best option. As groups of people leave Earth to head to K-23, the Aether space crew, who went to examine K-23, are headed back to Earth.
Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) chose to stay on Earth, at a base in the arctic circle, in an attempt to contact the space crews to let them know that they will not be able to return to Earth. He’s dealing with a terminal illness, and he knows that he doesn’t have much time left. George Clooney plays a more vulnerable character than we usually see him as, and he does it with grace.
Science fiction films can make for excellent action movies or horror movies, but one of the best things about the genre is its ability to tell truly human stories. It’s clear from early on in The Midnight Sky that this film will fall in the latter category, as Augustine realizes he is not alone on the base — a young girl named Iris has been accidentally left there by the colonizers. Augustine, feeling incapable of taking care of a child, attempts to communicate with other space missions to let them know he’s found her. He’s also attempting to contact them to let people know about the situation on Earth.
There are, of course, action sequences in The Midnight Sky that are full of disasters and plans going awry that add suspense. Augustine and Iris are unable to communicate with anyone at all, and so they travel to another satellite base at the North Pole. Their arduous journey is full of stress and doubt as the unlikely duo brave freeze white-outs, wolves, and the great unknown. This is very effective, until a scene that ultimately dissolves any realism — you can’t help but think, “okay, there’s no way he’s going to survive this”.
Some of The Midnight Sky’s best scenes take place on the Aether. The design of the ship itself is fantastic, and the space walk scene is suspenseful. While at times the characters and the plot on the Aether feel very derivative of just about every science fiction movie that takes place on a spaceship of the last 30 years, the story of what’s happening on the Aether becomes a compelling part of the film as we begin to spend more time there.
The best of science fiction asks us existential questions; who are we, where are we going, and are we alone? The Midnight Sky becomes more of a drama than a science fiction film, not focusing on the mystery of the uncertain future, but instead on developing connection in a lonely time. The “event” that happened on Earth is never fully explored — all we really know is that Earth is no longer inhabitable, as the air is no longer safe to breathe. It’s safe to say that this is likely as a result of climate change, and it would have benefitted The Midnight Sky to spend more time exploring that, or perhaps more time exploring K-23, which we only see brief glimpses of.
Between the time in the Arctic Circle, on the Aether, and in flashbacks, The Midnight Sky sometimes feels disjointed and unfocused. The three story lines do connect, leading to a plot twist that is pretty predictable. While the plot twist can be figured out pretty early on in the film, it does serve to tell Augustine’s story. The Midnight Sky feels like it could have been a great movie, but instead was diluted by it’s overly-ambitious nature.
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