“This post-apocalyptic tale follows Augustine, a lonely scientist in the Arctic, as he races to stop Sully and her fellow astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.”

Director: George Clooney
Writers: Lily Brooks-Dalton, Mark L. Smith
Staring: George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Caoilinn Springall, Kyle Chandler
Release Date: December 23, 2020

The Midnight Sky is a George Clooney showcase. It is a Netflix original movie that is not built for mass appeal. Clooney’s first acting project since 2016 is a deeply philosophical approach to the apocalypse. It combines the struggles of humanity with the life-altering introspections of its dying main character, Augustine (George Clooney).

The year is 2049 and the world famous scientist is suffering from a terminal illness so he elects to stay on our dying planet while the rest of living humanity explore the depths of space.

Augustine’s knows his fate is intertwined with the planet he studied his entire life. The astrophysicist is ready to live out the rest of the days in quiet isolation, but those plans are scrapped when he finds Iris (Caoilinn Springall). This little girl doesn’t speak, but the pair still form a connection that borders on spirituality. Augustine vows to try and get this young girl to safety, and that means contacting nearest ship to earth at any costs.

The Æther space ship is accompanied by a few souls, most notably the pregnant Sully (Felicity Jones), her lover and ship captain Adewole (David Oyelowo). They are joined by Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), Sanchez (Demián Bichir), and Maya (Tiffany Boone). Together they want to return home to Earth with good news about a possibility for a hospital living environment for humans. They are unfortunately greeted with terrible news when the finally make contact with the last man on earth, Augustine.

With an avalanche of struggles aboard the ship, and the depressing news about their home planet, the dynamic of the Æther changes. Tough choices are made, and friendships are tested. In the end, each member of the Æther has a defining moment or decision that seals the course of their fate, but we the audience don’t know what will happen to them.

Come the end of The Midnight Sky, you are left with a hope for humanity, but the feeling is overshadowed by the dread of doubt and uncertainty. Augustine has a come to Jesus moment in the waining moments of his life. His emotional and subconscious journey, which we see tangibly, orbits around his utter success of astronomy discovery that led to the discovery of a new hospital land. However, what kept this professional success in orbit was his utter dedication to work; his ambition was his guiding light, and it was the center of his universe. He dedicated himself to exploring the unknown in the vast beyond, and it took till the end of the world for him to realize he missed the littlest yet most profound unknowns on the world he was absently living in.

George Clooney as Augustine

There are very few actors that could get the green light from Netflix to make a movie like The Midnight Sky, and one of those is men are George Clooney. This is Clooney’s first acting role in a movie since 2016’s Money Monster…a movie that I have never heard of. That same year he did Hail, Caesar, but The Midnight Sky is a far departure from that.

Was this movie a one for me, and one for them scenario for Mr. Clooney? The Midnight Sky is dark, deep and wholly un-comedic. His next movie was the romantic comedy Ticket To Paradise (2022) with Julia Roberts. There are are little to no common threads between the two movies; they are so opposed from one another it is rather hilarious.

This dark and dreary apocalyptic epitaph of a man’s view of himself is a throughly well acted movie. Clooney, Ridley and company make The Midnight Sky more palatable than it has ever right to be. The Midnight Sky does not carry itself with immense momentum for its entirety. Alright, it can be boring. There, I said it. Thankfully there are the talents of this cast to lift the story over the dreary clouds at times.

One part of The Midnight Sky that doesn’t lack for entertainment value is the meteor storm that ravages Æther. The suddenness of the barrage handcuffs you from radio chatter that filled the time. The sudden stress of the moment is accented by how strong the visuals are. This scene in The Midnight Sky reminded me of the stress of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013). It is not blasphemous, I can assure you. The whole movie of The Midnight Sky may not match that of Gravity, but The Midnight Sky can at least say it was on the invite list for most memorable space sequences in recent memory.

There are the two distinct settings for Midnight Sky: space and earth. Each has its own focal character. On the terrestrial plane we have Augustine, and in the vast emptiness there is Sully. The Midnight Sky benefits from Felicity Jones’s personal life. Jones got pregnant, leading to Clooney needing to rework the script with Lilly Brooks-Dalton and Mark L. Smith. Such an addition to the story actually raises the stakes, and Clooney was rather enthralled with this natural development: ‘The fact that Felicity ended up being pregnant…. gave us something that now feels like we should have done it all along, which is to have this other through line, this future, going through it.'”

Sully’s relationship with Adewole is remarkably modern in that it is not over the top. They are the couple that puts business over pleasure, and they have immense trust in one another to accomplish their task even with the emotional baggage they have. Adewole did not blink when Sully went outside to fix the communications. They live in a world of danger, and Adewole as a captain doesn’t give any sense of favoritism. Such a contrivance would have been an unnecessary add-on to the story.

The Midnight Sky thrives on what it decides not to tell people. It doesn’t over explain the reason for the apocalypse. It doesn’t over illustrate the romantic connection between Sully and Adewole. It doesn’t punch you in the face with Augustine’s emotional baggage. It doesn’t tell you if it’s a happy ending for humanity.

The Midnight Sky leaves much to interpretation, but it creates a tunnel of darkness that is fun to traverse down. I could make the easy comparison to Disney’s Space Mountain roller coaster…but I wouldn’t do that.

The Midnight Sky was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 2021 Academy Awards. It is also on the National Board of Review’s Top-10 list for the year 2020. I would recommend everyone check out The Midnight Sky on Netflix. My affection for this movie has grown in writing about it, and it’ll have me thinking about it for much time to come.

STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)

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