In Jeff Nichols’s slow-burn, sci-fi sleeper hit MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, Roy Tomlin (played by Michael Shannon) wants to protect his supernaturally gifted son Alton (played by Jaeden Lieberher) from an unsafe world. Join us as we delve into the many Christian themes in this film on this episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction with special guest Scott Kelly 
  • 00:08:33 – Movie Discussion
  • 00:27:57 – Christian Themes in MIDNIGHT SPECIAL
  • 00:55:30 – Even More Christian Themes in MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

Special Note: Michael and I (Brenden) are pleased to welcome our brother in Christ and fellow movie lover, Scott Kelly.  He comes to us from the team at Reel World Theology, and you can follow him on Twitter.

Key Texts in Midnight Special

Let these passages be your guide as you watch MIDNIGHT SPECIAL with friends and loved ones…either from this world or the one on top of it.

John 1:46 NASB

Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip *said to him, “Come and see.”

1 John 1:1-4 NLT

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.

James 4:13-14 NASB

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

This image from MIDNIGHT SPECIAL shows Jaeden Lieberher as Alton.

Alton Invites Us to “Come and See”

Whenever people first meet Alton Meyer, he’s a lot to take in. That doesn’t stop him from inviting them to be a part of his journey. He believes in Lucas, so he gives Lucas his gift. He trusts Paul Sevier, so he shares his vision with him. Even when he has to convince his father Roy to let him go to a new world, Alton shows him that new world (more on that later). In all of these instances, Alton invites his friends and family to “come and see” what it is he has to offer.

It reminds me (Brenden) of Jesus when he first started his ministry. After keeping tabs on John the Baptist for a while, Jesus finally steps out from the crowd. John the Baptist identifies him as the Son of God, and some of John’s followers are compelled to approach Jesus. These new guys, Simon and Andrew, ask Jesus of his lodging situation, and Jesus invites them to “come and see.” Simon and Andrew obviously liked what they saw because they ended up staying all night. They then became Jesus’s first disciples, then they went out and invited more people to Jesus.

The crux of this matter is that an invitation can be a powerful thing. Sometimes, I (Brenden) – someone who was born and raised in the church and is already familiar with it – can forget how important and how crucial an invitation to someone on the outside can be. Let us (myself included) remember that not everyone believes in what we believe and that, sometimes, the only way to get them to believe the unbelievable is to invite them to “come and see” it for themselves.

This image from MIDNIGHT SPECIAL shows Adam Driver as Paul Sevier.

Roy, Lucas, and Sarah Cannot Stop Talking About It

Alton’s special gift makes him extremely valuable to a lot of people, and not all of those people have the best intentions. Calvin Meyer, the leader of an apocalyptic cult and Alton’s adopted father, believes that Alton is a literal Godsend. This prompts Calvin to send out Doak and Levi, two “believers”-turned-mercenaries, to find and reclaim the Ranch’s kidnapped savior. Even Elden, a kindly man yet a former Rancher who lets Roy, Lucas, and Alton stay at his house, abuses Alton’s gift for his own selfish gain.

Alton’s true family, however, cannot stop talking about what they’ve seen. As Lucas installs a police scanner into Sarah’s dashboard, he tells the story of how Alton “converted” him into a believer. Sarah, too, knows this gift because she is Alton’s mother. After Alton shows Roy the sunrise – and thus Alton’s own, true world – Roy uses his experience to fuel and encourage the others into continuing their journey – even if they all know how it will have to end.

The point is that those who loved Alton can’t stop talking about it. The phenomenon reminds us of the apostles using their experience with Jesus as their own motivation while fulfilling the Great Commission. While some people (religious leaders of the time, enemies of the Way, etc.) tried to speak against Jesus, those who knew and loved him could not be quenched. They knew what they had to do, and they did it with gusto. May it be so with us.

This image from MIDNIGHT SPECIAL shows Michael Shannon as Roy Tomlin and Jaeden Lieberher as Alton.

God Still Loves Us…That’s the Deal

The hardest part of this film is watching a father let his son go. Roy’s super-objective for the first two acts of this film has been to protect Alton. He’s done that by keeping Alton held tightly and closely to him (figuratively and literally). Roy’s caravan only travels by night because he perceives that the sunlight will hurt Alton. He tells Alton to stay in the car, and when Alton doesn’t, he destroys a US satellite which then crashes into a gas station. It seems to Roy that the only way he can keep Alton safe is by holding onto him.

Unfortunately, this tactic becomes null and void, and a new tactic ushers in the third act of the film: in order to really protect Alton, Roy has to let him go to his true home. That means, much to Roy’s brokenheartedness, that Alton will have to leave Roy behind. What’s important, though, is Roy’s decision to still love Alton. “I’ll always worry about you, Alton,” Roy assures his son. “That’s the deal.”

The final act of Midnight Special serves as a reminder that our kosmos (or “preferred ordered system”) will not remain that way for long. It’s only a matter of time before something as earth-shattering as a child growing up into their own life and out of their parents care happens. As Christians, we are called to handle these moments with wisdom, grace, truth, and love. Only then can we truly accomplish our own super-objective: loving God and loving other people.

Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes – including links to articles discussed – by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a good way to use stories to soften peoples' hearts. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @LeviTheBeliever.
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