The Midnight Sky is a barely interesting story about family and survival that comes in at a middling 3 stars. Set in the harsh frozen landscape of a post-apocalyptic North Pole, the movie opens with our hero, Augustine, refusing to leave his planet behind. As a terminally ill patient, he decides that death on Earth is better than a short life on a spaceship. Simultaneously, we follow the quirky but well-bonded crew aboard the spaceship ‘Aether’, who are returning home after an exploration to K-23, one of Jupiter’s moons and the hopeful second home to mankind. For the majority of the film, nothing remotely engaging happens to the crew, but instead we are shown scenes after scene of the crew chatting, whether about the strange radio silence from Earth, or deciding a name for the unborn child of a crewmember, who we know as Dr. Sullivan. Back on Earth, however, things are getting slightly more chilling. Augustine, who we realise is not only terminally ill but also deeply alcoholic, has discovered a young, mute girl still stuck inside the space station, forgotten in the frantic attempt to evacuate. We are then launched into the ‘begrudging, grumpy man cares for small child’ trope that we quickly realise stems from Augustine’s own guilt over abandoning his young daughter and her mother years before. This relationship is by far the most compelling part of the story; Clooney’s performance is understated but well developed, and I found myself genuinely caring about the fate of the unlikely.
The acting aboard the Aether, however, is not as well realised. The characters are one dimensional, and hollow. While I can appreciate this movie is an adaptation of the novel, and perhaps the book contained more insight for these characters, the translation to the big screen is not made well. In fact, it appears that without two of the five crew members, the plot would have developed in nearly the exact same way. Their story is only saved by a single scene, where the young scientist Maya is struck by shrapnel and eventually bleeds out. Even this scene is only made so interesting by the cinematography – Maya’s blood floats around her in drops, weightless, while she struggles to breathe.
Back on Earth, George Clooney is also dying; his blood transfusion kit (necessary for him to survive) has been lost, and it is now a race against time to contact Aether and warn them of the uninhabitable state of their planet. When he does finally contact the crew, there is flat and unconvincing storyline of two characters that decide to return to Earth, despite knowing they will likely perish practically upon arrival. Their explanations seemed half-hearted, and as I mentioned before, the development of the plot and the starring characters is entirely unchanged by their decisions. Quickly after the two depart the Aether, there is an emotional reveal that the pregnant crewmember, Dr. Sullivan is actually Augustine’s daughter. We realise that the young girl Augustine has been fighting so hard to protect was, in fact, a fantasy of his daughter. It is implied that his decision to try and save the young girl was, in fact, a desperate attempt to save his real daughter, whether this was planned or not. Now, maybe I am just not someone who expects there to be a twist ending, because I very rarely see them coming, and this was no different. It retroactively amended previously unimportant plotlines, and, if only vaguely, brought the story to a full circle. Overall, while I can appreciate that there was an attempt at portraying recurring symbolism of family and survival, the Midnight Sky was an only a partially successful sci-fi, where the only real thought I had as the credits rolled was, ‘Well, now that’s over’.