A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Midnight Special is a sci-fi drama that writer/director Jeff Nichols made to help process his feelings of becoming a father. Some of the movie's story ideas may seem very familiar, but it's more about emotions than special effects or thrills. That said, there are violent moments and scary effects involving an 8-year-old boy; he's kidnapped and shown with bleeding ears and a bloody nose. There are also very realistic car crashes, guns and shooting, bleeding wounds, and injured bodies. Sex isn't an issue, and language is infrequent but does include one use of "a--hole" and one use of "s--t." Glasses of whisky are poured by not consumed (at least on screen). The movie is thoughtful and emotional, but some story details are left deliberately vague.
What's the story?
An Amber Alert has been issued for a missing child, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) -- but he's with his father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy's childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton). It turns out that Alton has special powers. He can see things, read people's thoughts, and make things happen with his eyes. Roy and Lucas have taken the boy from a kind of religious compound, whose leader (Sam Shepard) very much wants him back. Roy's plan is to get Alton to a specific destination by a specific date. So, pursued by government agents, the fugitives -- aided by Alton's birth mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) -- must travel by night to protect Alton from daylight, which harms him. But when Alton grows sicker and requests to see the sunlight, something unbelievable is revealed.
Is it any good?
Though talented indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols borrows from established sci-fi classics, this movie tells its story in a new way, rooted in characters and emotions, embracing uncertainty and loss. Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) has said that he made the movie to help him process becoming a father, and those ideas and feelings take precedence over the story details. It begins without exposition; the focus is on moods, lighting, silences, and a music score filled with wonder.
Sci-fi buffs may feel slighted that not every detail of this particular situation is explained in full, but that's not what MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is really about. Plus, if things were solidified, it would only draw concrete comparisons to Close Encounters, E.T., Starman, the Witch Mountain series, and many other similar stories. This Midnight is special because it's less about visual effects and more about connections, bonds that can't be broken, and the kind of fear, bravery, and acceptance that comes through them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Midnight Special's violence. What purpose does it serve? Is it more upsetting/impactful when it involves the young boy? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?
The filmmaker says he made the movie to deal with becoming a father. How did he achieve this? What ideas was he wrestling with? Do you think viewers who aren't parents can appreciate it?
How does Midnight Special compare to other sci-fi movies with similar stories? What's included, and what's left out? How are the characters different?
Are viewers intended to root for Alton to go back "home" or stay with his parents? How does the movie convince us?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.