The Midnight Sky: Another Review – The best space films tell us more about ourselves than anything else. Space itself is too unknown, too incomprehensible to completely absorb through a screen. The worst of the genre tells us nothing, and for all it’s staggering beauty, and a handful of poignant moments, George Clooney’s “The Midnight Sky” tells us nothing, and despite a vast reach, leaves you wanting for any semblance of depth and perhaps just a dash more hope.
The year is 2049, Augustine (Clooney) is the last man left behind on Earth’s final outpost in the Arctic, three weeks after “The Event” saw the beginning of our planet’s demise. He elects to remain in his isolation due to his terminal cancer, which he regularly treats through dialysis as he goes about his remaining duties. Those being contacting any remaining NASA agents still in space searching for humanities next bastion, of which there is only one team, the crew of spacecraft Aether. Led by their captain Adewole (David Oyelowo), Aether’s mission was to survey a potential new home for humanity, specifically, a moon of Jupiter known as K-23. Cutting to them we greet Sully (Felicity Jones), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) and Sanchez (Demián Bichir) and, buoyed by their discovery that K-23 is a perfect match for life, we find them in mostly good spirits. There is one problem though; they have had no contact with Earth, no contact from anyone anywhere, leaving them utterly ignorant of their home’s decay.
Augustine’s goal becomes clear, warn Aether not to return to keep the flickering candle lit on the human race’s existence. Yet he finds his own hiccup in the form of Iris (Caoilinn Springall), a young girl seemingly left behind in the evacuation of his outpost. Making matters worse his satellite isn’t powerful enough to contact Aether, leaving him no choice other than to pack up the medical technology he needs, and head to a distant weather station with a more powerful satellite alongside the continually mute Iris.
So it’s safe to say the stakes are pretty high, and as the tension builds, we periodically go back in time to a much younger Augustine falling in and out of love. He becomes so obsessed with charting space he forgets actually to live his life and ends up alone. Now the hardened scientist has to protect the young girl against the fiercest of snowy conditions as the crew on Aether battle space doing all it can to destroy their ship. All in all, it sounds like a perfectly mixed concoction, and in some ways it is, and yet the more you drink it in, the more you realise how much everything is lacking.
What is possibly the film’s largest issue is that throughout it’s hard to feel for the crew as individuals, despite Clooney’s efforts to amass empathy, we don’t get to spend enough time with them. Yes, there are brief and touching moments between the peripheral characters (Maya, Sanchez and Mitchell). However, they are so fleeting that when the complications begin to grow, and their situation becomes dire, you still struggle to care. It’s not just the sensation that they are strangers either; their fate is also just too predictable. The little trauma they go through amounts to an overlong music-driven repair sequence entirely off-tone with the rest of the film. Eventually, they do take us through one of the few genuinely moving moments, but everything remains, if you’ll pardon the pun, weightless. Not once do they generate any glimpse of thrill, their plight is to be the last form of life in the galaxy, but the film doesn’t let them know it until its ready to take us to the ending.
And here is precisely where everything goes amiss. The film isn’t about the crew of Aether, it’s about Augustine and Iris risking it all to save them, and Clooney tries his darndest to make this enough. In front of and behind the camera, he delivers some excellent work, the visuals stun, and his performance is one of his best in years, but the story and the pacing let him down. For all the grit and drive the dying Augustine offers, he only catalyses the moment you realise Midnight Sky’s lack of scope. Here a whole planet is dying, the only human’s left to carry the torch are returning to it, and Augustine is the only one who can save them. To me, this speaks to the grand theme of how one man can chart the destiny of forces far beyond his existence, but that’s not where we go. Instead, we get Augustine’s story and how he wasted his life and how it’s sad that he did. On top of this, life doesn’t seem to have any hope. There’s a small emotional payoff at the end and nothing grander bar a tragic realisation that all of humanity will perish.
The Midnight Sky’s reach far exceeds its grasp, and despite powerful work from Clooney, feels as hollow as the grand themes of space travel could ever feel. – The Midnight Sky: Another Review
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