Review by Seamus Conlon
The Midnight Sky (2020) is George Clooney’s answer to the entertainment industry shutdown. In his high budget sci-fi film released on Netflix this Wednesday, Clooney plays Augustine, a dreary bearded scientist who struggles to warn a group of astronauts about an unspecified global catastrophe on earth. I started this movie expecting it to be bad as I committed the cardinal sin of reading reviews before formulating my opinion. A glaring 54% from Rotten Tomatoes coloured the first ten minutes of the film with an air of cynicism. The special effects were mediocre. The high tech of Clooney’s at home sci-fi blockbuster seemed out of step with its environment. Tropes borrowed from Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) seemed obvious and sloppy. I was also let down by the co-star performance of Felicity Jones which at times felt incredibly forced. However, as I suspended my criticisms, I began to enjoy the film.
Clooney’s stellar acting and the energising score make for an engaging and immersive experience. Wide shots of the cavernous interior of the arctic research station allude to the emptiness of Augustine’s life. Creative prop design alludes to world-building and solidifies the viewers tactile connection with the film. Similarly, the set design is incredibly consistent throughout, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in Clooney’s film and imagine their lives within it. Supporting actors also exceeded my expectations as Demián Bichir (Sanchez) and Kyle Chandler (Mitchell) shone in their respective roles.
Netflix mislabeled this film as dystopia as it is more of a sci-fi epic. However, the social commentary is obvious and potent. We should examine the parallels between this film and our lives in lockdown. Augustine inhabits a lonely, uncertain world. He searches for connections and is reminded again and again of those which he took for granted while he was still able to forge them. It is a film about a cold and isolated world, fractured by a confusing global crisis. Characters search for purpose and meaning in monotonous and repetitive landscapes, routines, and tasks. Reminders of mortality and human fragility are ubiquitous throughout the film as we are constantly made aware that the stakes are real, brutal, and indiscriminate. Clooney poses three questions with his film: “What connections are you taking for granted?” “Are you doing the most with the time you have?” and “Do we live in a predictable world or one ruled by randomness?”.Like the murky coming months and the possible end of lockdowns worldwide, the answers to these questions remain uncertain.