George Clooney is the last man on Earth in The Midnight Sky. The actor and filmmaker’s science-fiction drama is a major hit on Netflix. Over four weeks, 72 million Netflix viewers hit play on the adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s story. It’s a sensitive movie with Clooney delivering one of his more melancholic performances, as well as one the most ambitious endings in his filmmaking career.
First, let’s set the stage. Clooney is Augustine, a terminally ill man who remains on Earth as most of the population has died and everyone else seeks life on a moon around Jupiter. An undisclosed disaster was involved in Earth’s demise. The story focuses on Augustine and the crew of Aether, including Dr. Sullivan (Felicity Jones), who is returning from Jupiter’s habitable moon, K-23. The dying scientist tries to warn them about returning to Earth, as well as locate the last of the evacuees to rescue a young girl left behind at the Artic, named Iris.
Earlier in his career when Augustine was dreaming of bringing life to Jupiter’s moon, he closed himself off from others, including a woman who loved him, Jean (Sophie Rundle). She leaves Augustine, who in his younger years, is played by another actor whose voice is jarringly mixed with Clooney’s own voice. It has a weird effect.
Augustine’s obsession with work ruined what they had. When Jean tells Augustine she actually isn’t pregnant with their child, they split. Years later when reunited by chance, the scientist sees his daughter. He knows she’s his. When Jean says he could always meet her, he doesn’t.
And that is when the camera cuts right to Dr. Sullivan, who’s pregnant. It’s a moment of foreshadowing halfway through the movie that spells out a little too much of what’s to come. Dr. Sullivan is Augustine and Jean’s daughter, the audience realizes. Not only that, her name is Iris. One of the two major twists is the young girl alongside Augustine isn’t real, it’s him imagining his daughter during his dying days filled with regret.
For the first time in his life and at the very end, Augustine has to be there for somebody, specifically his daughter. Imaginary or not — we’re talking about the young Iris on the Artic — it doesn’t matter. Throughout most of The Midnight Sky, Augustine becomes Iris’ protector. Clooney being Clooney, he sells it all with audience-friend sentimentality, especially with the music pulling the audience’s heartstrings. Clooney communicates loudly, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The actor is nothing if not sincere, especially behind the camera.
The first act is a post-apocalyptic movie, the second act is a survival story, and the third act is when finally some hope slips into the bleak picture. Augustine finally reaches Dr. Sullivan aboard the K-23, initially not knowing she’s his daughter. The two develop a long-distance admiration for one another until the shoe is dropped.
Augustine actually inspired Dr. Sullivan to go to space. When she tells him this news, his eyes well with tears as he learns she’s his daughter, and that he did, in fact, impact her life. “She brought home a moon rock you gave her, and I thought it was the most amazing thing ever,” she said. “It made me want to go out and find more.” She tells him her name, Iris, and he says, “I know.” Cue the emotional fireworks of a digital reunion, which is fitting these days.
There are hints the doctor in space and the young girl on the arctic are both the same throughout the movie. Augustine’s head is not right. He’s seeing things and having dreams. It’s not until 15 minutes until the end does the story finally unveil the twist, which is effective because of Clooney. There’s something compelling about the actor shedding himself of his movie star charisma and showing audiences what pain looks like.
It’s not a happy ending. Even though Augustine finally gets to meet his daughter, it’s under the worst of circumstances. The world has ended. They’ll never meet. There’s nothing happy about it, but there is catharsis. There is a hello and goodbye. It’s a little cheesy, yes, but Clooney serves up some good cheese in the end.