Who are the light beings in Midnight Special?
Midnight is special. It’s where the day ends. It’s where the day begins. And one day follows another; no remission, no gaps and with only one portal to the other side: death. If we could break open the day, what would we see? If we could break open the earth, would we see another world, living amongst us, always, always with us? This is what Midnight Special reveals briefly; another world living right on top of us. And then the film ends. Life goes on. The days go on. The usual things happen; houses, cars, state institutions…
Midnight Special’s revelation of an unseen world – its uncanny structures and transcendent light beings – is overt and alluring and it is easy to see how science fiction challenges religion’s traditional hold on ‘other realms’. For many, sci-fi opens the third eye and aids inner visualisation in a way they find religion cannot. Is the imagination of science fiction usurping religion’s authority on ‘higher planes’ or are the other worlds of science fiction and higher planes of religion one and the same thing? What would an ancient sage armed with CGI create? Perhaps they would design the uncovered world in Midnight Special?
In Midnight Special, Alton Meyer is a strange boy. The FBI view Alton as a potential weapon whilst a Christian cult view him as a saviour. But he is neither. He simply belongs in another world with “people who’ve been watching us for a long time.”
But what is this other world? I will briefly explore a few religious contenders that may shed light on who the light creatures, and the enigmatic and graceful structures, of Midnight Special are.
Shambhala (Buddhism) is a place where perfect and semi-perfect beings live who are guiding the evolution of humanity. Only the pure of heart live in Shambhala. They never know suffering as love and wisdom govern. The inhabitants are long-lived, possess supernatural powers, have deep spiritual knowledge and a highly advanced level of technology. Shambhala is hidden, existing on the edge of physical reality and is believed to be somewhere in the Himalayas.
In Midnight Special, the light creatures are shown to be both heart-centred and technologically advanced. Supernaturally-gifted Alton is able to reveal this other world by reaching precise co-ordinates in order to unveil it. However, a highway in rural Texas is hardly a Himalayan mountain range so Shambhala isn’t to be found in Midnight Special.
Hurqalya (Islam) is part of the spiritual belief of Shi’i Islam and is a metaphysical world halfway between the physical and the spiritual worlds and as real as the empirical world. It is “a world in which spirits are embodied and bodies are spiritualised” (Muhsin-al-Fayd-al-Kashani). Hurqalya is a concrete, spiritual reality which is hidden but which can be seen by developing esoteric organs, mainly the inner eye or ear. To discover the true self within is to discover the hidden Iman who resides in all hearts but not everyone possesses the inner Hurqlyan ear to hear or eye to see.
In Midnight Special, Alton’s eyes are aglow with light as though interacting with an internal light world. It could be possible that he has special esoteric eyes that enable him to navigate into Hurqalya and stay in touch with it whilst in the physical world. Furthermore, the world he eventually reveals is as real as the empirical world and the beings that emerge have their hearts overtly shining. However, Hurqalya seems more like the astral realm than a place “just above us” on earth and so perhaps Hurqalya isn’t represented in Midnight Special.
Kami (Shinto) means essence and that which is hidden. Kami beings are not divine nor inherently different from human beings – they are just a higher manifestation of the life energy. Kami do not exist in a supernatural universe – they live in the same world as human beings and the world of nature. In Shinto, people pray to ask or thank for Kami’s blessings. It is in Shinto that we find a possible answer to the question of who Midnight Special’s light beings are that “live on top of us” (as Alton reveals to his father).
In Midnight Special, the other-worldly structures harness the wind and the translucent creatures emerge from the trees and a co-existence of the earth is emphasised. In Shinto, Kami must be heeded through an earth-pacifying ritual (jichinsai) otherwise they become displeased with humans’ ignorance towards them.
The Kami respond to human prayers and can influence natural forces and human events. In Midnight Special, a satellite explodes to earth because it is spying on Alton, trying to prevent him to open the portal between worlds.
Shinto tradition says that there are eight million, million Kami in Japan. In Midnight Special, many light beings emerged just from one structure, suggesting a large population.
Kami also refers to the essence of all living things. If applied to Midnight Special, it is clear that humans possess the same essence as the light-beings but in a less-realised form, allowing Alton to incarnate to his parents through this sharing of ‘kami’.
Kami have a truthful will called makoto. In Midnight Special, Alton consistently reveals the truth in a sincere manner, simply stating who he is and what will happen.
Finally, Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, is the greatest of the Kami. In Midnight Special, it is the sun’s power in reaction with Alton’s eyes that reveals the hidden world suggesting Alton is helped by such a solar Goddess.
Perhaps the Kami really can explain just who those light beings are?
Midnight Special ends in a prison; a metaphor for the present human condition perhaps, given the preceding scenes’ revelation of an enlightened civilization. It seems feasible that sci-fi/speculative film can reinvigorate how modern humans comprehend spiritual and religious traditions about the unseen world. However, with or without spiritual traditions, Midnight Special remains a very special film that exposes the modern world’s insular, unloving and limited mode of existence simply through the awe-inspiring and graceful juxtapositioning of a world of higher frequency in the film’s silently-powerful crescendo.