The Heartbreaking Story That Inspired Jeff Nichols To Write Midnight Special

Midnight Special is a film about many things. On the one hand, it’s about a father and a son bonding, while it’s also equally a road-trip, sci-fi thriller too. We’ve come to expect this level of genre-defying storytelling from Jeff Nichols. Every film has to start somewhere, and the Mud and Take Shelter director admitted that the catalyst and inspiration to write Midnight Special came after almost losing his eight-month-old son.

Jeff Nichols revealed this when he recently sat down with a small group of reporters including myself for a roundtable interview to discuss Midnight Special. While the film can easily be pigeonholed into several genres, the core weight of the story, and its scant plot, comes from a very real and tangible place. When I asked how Midnight Special came to be, Nichols’ candid explanation revealed exactly why the film is so fraught with emotion:

When I was writing the film I was a new father. When I write my films I try to find some palpable emotion to put in my films. I think that’s the best way to communicate with the audience. And filmmaking is a really tricky process, takes a long time, and there are so many variables that go in, and you have to have this really strong emotion to make it through development. And with this it was the fear of losing my son. When I was conceiving of the film and he was 8 months old he had a febrile seizure, and my wife and I dealt with the reality of losing him. And I was terrified by that. In fact I was paralyzed for a couple of months.

Jeff Nichols also confessed that his own fears of the world have been imbued throughout his previous movies. In fact, he suggested that he uses his own body of work as a way of analysing these issues. Of course, he’s well aware that a film can’t just be about fear though. That’s just a starting point. Nichols continued:

A lot of my films come from a place of dealing with fear. Take Shelter is about the fear of becoming a parent, being married, the economy collapsing, the environment collapsing. What do you do with all that fear? How do you process, talk about that fear? Because the fear isn’t a point of the movie. You can’t just make a movie about fear? That’s not enough. What are you trying to say about it? And as I was developing this movie I started to think about being parent. And I think when you are afraid of something you tried to control it. And we try to control our children’s lives, try to control their environment, try to control the world they live in, the people they are going to become. That became a thought that was fairly coherent enough to hang a film on.

Despite the fear that vibrates through Midnight Special, Jeff Nichols still has a very sweet and heartbreaking reaction that he wants audiences to have after watching the film.

I want people to watch this film and go home and hug their kids.

You’ll be able to see if Midnight Special inspires you to do just that when it’s released this coming Friday, March 18.

Gregory Wakeman