Review: Netflix’s ‘The Midnight Sky’

In a year that has felt like an apocalypse at nearly every turn, Netflix’s The Midnight Sky reckons with what comes after. How will humans reckon, scientifically and emotionally, with our damaged world? If anyone knows, of course, it’s George Clooney.

Based on the book Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, The Midnight Sky alternates between 2049 and a series of flashbacks. In 2049, “The Event” has just occurred and Earth is no longer habitable. Humans are fleeing to planet K-23, whose habitability was discovered by brilliant scientist Augustine. Flashbacks show Augustine (Ethan Peck) at the height of research and discovery, so absorbed in his studies that he can’t commit to Jean (Sophie Rundle) – or even introduce himself to the daughter they have together out of wedlock.

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In 2049, Augustine (George Clooney) is terminally ill and has opted to stay on Earth, at a station in the Arctic Circle. His goal now is to communicate with a team of astronauts who were on a mission to K-23 when “The Event” occurred, and to tell them not to return to Earth. The crew has literally and metaphorically journeyed into uncharted territory since “The Event” cut off all their communications with other humans. And Augustine’s journey changes, too, when he discovers a child (Caoilinn Springall) who has also stayed behind at the base.

I’m going to come right out and say this: the most important connection between all of these stories is a huge spoiler, and I’m not going to give it away here. Just know that there’s more, and it’s worth watching to find out.

Indeed, throughout the movie, the feeling that we’re missing a lot of information is quite common. We never find out what “The Event” was, for starters. The story is laser-focused on characters, and the situations in which they find themselves are not fretted over in the exposition. This is the kind of science fiction story that really isn’t for science nerds… or at least, the classic science nerds. This one will appeal to people who are more interested in the science of understanding humans.

I like the balance between sci-fi, social commentary, and drama. However, the human drama borders on cliche. How many stories do we have about a man who is too obsessed with work to care for his family? The woman gets stuck caring for the child(ren), and the man ends up lonely and regretful. This story’s approach to a potential cliche is fresh, and George Clooney’s acting is amazing and original as always. But for a film that’s so imaginative in its context, it is curious why it tells such a common story.

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That said, the movie is so imaginative. Its images are particularly stunning. Whether we’re looking at the damaged Earth, wondrous K-23, freezing Arctic winds that make you cringe with their visceral reality, or – I swear – even George Clooney’s voluptuous beard, the visuals in this film are incredible. They invoke wonder and empathy, and the soundtrack and sound design add a light touch to create an all-around sensory treat. 

Unanswered questions and used tropes aside, The Midnight Sky offers fantastic acting performances by all involved. Its emotional range inspires laughs, cringes, and tears. Especially in a world where we’re truly wondering what’s going to happen to our planet and to the connections we have with the people we care about, this movie feels surprisingly relatable, as all of the best science fiction stories are.

The Bottom Line

The Midnight Sky starts with familiar ideas but it freshens them up emotionally, scientifically, and cinematically, resulting in a sci-fi drama story that’s perfect for viewers in 2020.

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