Shedding his handsome leading-man image and growing a grizzled, grey beard, George Clooney cast himself as the lead in a science fiction drama set in 2049 when a cataclysmic event is slowly destroying the Earth and he has chosen to remain on an outpost inside the Arctic Circle. We first see a small band of tourists fleeing the outpost observatory before a major storm.
A leading astronomer, Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney) suffers from a terminal disease that requires self-administered blood transfusions but he remains incurable. Having devoted his life to science, especially the search for another planet or moon that could sustain life, we get flashback glimpses of a young Augustine lecturing eager audiences but eschewing any kind of personal domestic commitment. The Barbeau Observatory is as much a home for him as any destination he might choose.
After the last plane has left, Augustine finds a little girl (Caoilinn Springall) huddled in a corner who was accidentally left behind. He sends out pleas to the evacuees on behalf of the lost child but there are no responses. Although seven or eight years old, the child does not speak, either by choice or necessity, but she draws a picture of a flower. So, Augustine calls her Iris as he reluctantly takes on her care.
As part of his duties as an astronomer, Augustine monitors the airwaves for signs of life. He notices spaceship Aether returning from a two-year discovery mission. Unable to contact the crew to warn them about the danger of returning to Earth, he bundles up himself and Iris to trudge on foot to a weather station with a stronger communication system. Much of the subsequent action in the film takes place on Aether.
The crew is headed by Sully (Felicity Jones) and Adewole (David Oyelowo), who are assisted by additional crew members—a pilot, a flight engineer, and a navigation specialist. At this point, the movie bifurcates with most of the scenes now occurring aboard Aether. We learn that a pregnant Sully is carrying the child of Adewole, whose hopes for a successful return to Earth are dwindling fast. One of the crew members is lost outside the spaceship in an attempt to repair the communication system. There is repartee and camaraderie among the crew members, but as characters they do not engage the audience as effectively as Augustine and his young companion journeying through an Arctic storm to warn the crew on the ship of impending danger.
The ending to “The Midnight Sky” ties together loose ends but seems contrived and overly convenient. Also, we never fully understand through the very brief flashbacks just why the younger Augustine (played by Ethan Peck) found it necessary to sacrifice his personal life in order to do his scientific research. The strongest asset of “The Midnight Sky” is the fine performances of its lead characters. Clooney succeeds in his role as a grizzled old scientist nearing the end of his life, and Jones is excellent portraying the competent and level-headed Sully.
“The Midnight Sky” can be seen on Netflix.