The movie Midnight Special, starring Michael Shannon, Adam Driver, and Kirsten Dunst, follows a father, Roy Tomlin (Shannon) and his eight year-old son, Alton Meyer, fleeing the federal government and a cult, which are after the boy due to his supernatural abilities. The Daily Wire interviewed director Jeff Nichols about his inspiration for the film as well as the movie's themes.
Q: Let's start with the title, Midnight Special. Why did you decide to call it that?
A: Well to be honest, you know, when I was still developing the story I was just mainly thinking about the genre elements. I hadn't really attached all the personal elements from my life yet, and when I was thinking about it kind of simply as a genre film, it's kind of this badass homage '70's and '80's sci-fi chase movies. I just thought of – I thought of that title and I thought it sounded tough, I thought it sounded cool and I thought it was evocative of the style of film. I wanted it to make it sound like a midnight drive-in movie or something, it just felt kind of muscular, just felt cool. I was a big fan of the song, but there was no real direct connection at that time to the plot, although maybe they kind of crept into my mind through osmosis or something...it's a great song, and I thought it was a cool title.
Q: You mentioned the homage to '70's and '80s sci-fi films, what films in particular are you referring to?
A: Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a personal favorite of mine, but I think there's more of a one-to-one correlation with a film called Starman by John Carpenter, but of course all of those '80's films...they aren't even sci-fi films but I'm a big fan of everything [Steven] Spielberg: Goonies, E.T., and this is not that film. This is not those films but certainly there were some aesthetic inspirations and kind of a general sense of mystery that I really appreciate in those films.
Q: You referenced that you put aspects of your personal life into Midnight Special. What were some of those personal aspects?
A: As I was developing this, it takes me usually a couple of years to get to a point where I can sit down and actually write, put pen to paper, and I usually just kind of collect images and scene ideas...while I was doing this I was entering my first year of fatherhood and about eight months into my son's life he had a febrile seizure, which is the body's reaction to a spike in fever – about one in a thousand kids have that – and it didn't have any long-lasting effects, but my wife and I didn't know that at the time and we thought my son could be dying and that kind of – it rattled my cage, to say the least. I started to reprocess this immense fear in my life, a fear that my son could be taken away from me at any time and I have no real control over that. And then I kind of thought about it more and this lack of control and all this fear that comes from it because not only do you not have any control whether or not they live or die, you don't have any control over who they've become...we might think we do but we don't. And I started to think of the meaning of parenthood and why I'm here, you know, it's all part of this relationship with this child and I realized that for me, fatherhood, I think, is about trying to understand who your child is, trying to find that, not put some point of view of who you want them to be, just really understand the nature of them. And as they grow, revisit their destination so that when they leave you, which your children will leave you at some point–that's the natural progression of things–that they know who they are, that they're prepared to leave, and I think there's a lot of beauty in that and I think there's a lot of pain in that and certainly a lot of fear as a parent. So all of those aspects are now lined up with what Mike Shannon and Kirsten Dunst's characters are doing in the film.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for the film?
A: The first thing that popped into my mind was an image of two guys driving a car, very fast, down these southern back roads in the middle of the night. Most of my films usually start with an image like that...you start asking, "Why can they only move at night? Why are they moving so fast? Who's chasing them? There's a kid in the backseat–what's going on with the kid?" And you just build on the plot from there and to be honest with this one I got further, probably than any other of my scripts, further along with the plot before I really had to come to terms with: "Okay, the plot's all fine and good and we've got this kind of sci-fi, chase film unfolding but what does it mean? What's the purpose of bothering people for two hours with this story? What am I trying to lead them to?" And that's when the personal stuff started to come into play.
Q: So the boy, Alton Meyer, how would you describe his powers?
A: I think I would not describe the powers, I would describe the nature of him, which is to say I think he's a conduit to something else...the thinking is he's kind of this natural thing that sprung out in this world and he is attuned to something that other people aren't attuned to and that manifests itself in these kind of physical symptoms, chiefly, light shooting out of his eyes, but also I think he listens to things, he hears things, he steals things and is connected to things that are just outside of our consciousness.
Q: What was the main takeaway that you wanted viewers to get out of Midnight Special?
A: I really wanted people to kind of feel what I feel like as a father, which is this tremendous mix of love and fear, and kind of this cocktail of emotions and, I don't know, they leave you nervous and scared but also happy at the same time. It's a very odd mixture of feelings that's a little hard to describe but that's the sense I wanted people to get out of it, is this sense that I had as a father.