The Midnight Sky may be one of the most relevant movies Netflix has ever released. It follows terminally ill scientist Augustine (George Clooney) as he races to stop the crew of a spaceship from returning to Earth, the planet having been ravaged following a mysterious global catastrophe. Augustine's alone at his Arctic base – until he discovers that a six-year-old girl, Iris, played by newcomer Caoilinn Springall, has been seemingly left behind following evacuation efforts.
“After we finished shooting, the pandemic came around,” Clooney, who also directs, says while discussing The Midnight Sky at a press conference with GamesRadar+. “And it became clear that what the story really was enveloping was our desperate need to be home and our desperate need to be close to the people we love and in communication with the people we love and near them, and how difficult that struggle is to communicate with one another. Like we're doing now in the weirdest possible press conference I think we've ever done.”
Half the film was shot in Iceland, with Augustine and Iris in the Arctic, while the other scenes take place on a space station manned by Felicity Jones's Sully and her crew, played by familiar faces David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir. “We were shooting two different movies,” Clooney continues. “It was like doing The Revenant for the first half of the end of the last year and then doing Gravity for the second half.”
The Midnight Sky's themes of communication, isolation, and family couldn’t be more prevalent now. The story moves between personal and global issues in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to what’s happening to all of us at the moment.
“What I always loved about the film and reading the script was that it had both a macro level of being a film about some really massive, huge issues and asking existential questions asking about the meaning of life," says Jones. "What are we doing here? Why are we here? What do we value? And interestingly, these are the questions that we are asking ourselves in this strange epoch that we find ourselves in. And so it had these broader brushstrokes, but then at the same time, it was a very intimate relationship drama about trying to forge connection and about family and about being a parent… It has been extraordinary just how relevant it has become.”
When it came to sounding like an authority on all things space, Oyelowo says Clooney’s advice related back to the actor/director's time as a doctor in hospital drama ER. “Learning it as well as you can, and saying it as fast as you can, is the key," Oyelowo explains. "Because if you know, or seem to know, what you're talking about, then the audience buys that you know what you're talking about, and then they just get keyed into the emotion of what your character is actually feeling. Don't get hung up on the terminology, as it were, still keep on playing the stakes. Keep on playing the emotions.”
On the movie's set, Clooney was skilful in creating an environment that allowed for collaboration, as Chandler – who plays an astronaut missing his unknowingly doomed family on Earth – says: “There's a calming effect that goes along with it. He doesn’t just hear you, he listens to you.”
An example of collaboration occurred between Oyelowo and Clooney, when the actor asked Clooney to change his character’s name from Commander Harper to Commander Adewole, a Yoruba name. "I realised that I'd never seen an African astronaut in a film like this," Oyewolo says. "And I loved the fact that in amongst us as astronauts, there was a certain amount of diversity there. And I just felt very strongly being a very proud person of African descent that a crew tasked with saving the world should have an African in there."
Clooney also worked closely with Jones after she found out she was pregnant after already being cast in the movie. Clooney rewrote her role as a result. “It was testament to his modernity,” Jones says.
“The best versions of things are when you accept them and don’t see them as problems,” Clooney responds, adding that the inclusion of an unborn child made the story “infinitely more hopeful” and “drew everyone together.” It’s certainly hard to imagine the movie without Sully’s pregnancy – it pulls the themes of the narrative together in a way that makes the ending all the more poignant.
The Midnight Sky arrives on Netflix worldwide on December 23. If you’re looking for more to watch over the festive period, check out our list of the other best Netflix movies you can stream right now.