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February 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever since “The Midnight Special” was composed more than a half century before Creedence Clearwater recorded a hit with it in 1969, people have been debating what the lyrics really mean. They will probably now begin debating what it means as the title of a new sci-fi thriller by Jeff Nichols, starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Joel Edgereton, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, and Jaeden Lieberher. (An older version of the song plays over the closing credits.) Perhaps it has something to do with the repeating lyric: “Let the Midnight Special shine a’ everlovin’ light on me.” After all, the principal character of the film, a precocious eight-year-old named Alton, played by Lieberher, has this special power to project a blindingly bright light through his eyes (accompanied by other special effects). The kid is a wanted man … er, kid. A conservative religious community wants him because the members feel he has some connection to the Lord. Government agents want him because he can destroy their weapons systems. And some aliens want him because they — and he — feel he’s one of them (although how he got to be one of them is never spelled out). It all makes for what director Nichols, at a Berlin news conference, called, “a sci-fi chase film.” It received solid initial reviews when it premiered Friday night at the Berlin Film Festival. David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter, summed up: “Midnight Special confirms Nichols’ uncommon knack for breathing dramatic integrity and emotional depth into genre material.” Fionnuala Halligan in Britain’s Screen International called the movie “urgent, unsettling … low-key, intense and very, very secretive.” Similarly, Tim Robey in the London Telegraph described it as “jangling, darkly addictive and super-mysterious.” And Jessica Kiang, writing in’s “The Playlist,” while finding the ending disappointing (“forced and out of sync with the film prior”), seems to acknowledge that a more satisfying ending might not have been in the cards. She concludes: “The bigger the questions you ask, the less likely it is you can answer them in any satisfying, definitive way, and the human, existential, metaphysical questions that Midnight Special poses, if you care to look for them, are enormous.”