Please note: this post contains spoilers for The Midnight Sky and Mr Robot!
The Midnight Sky is something of a mixed offering. In it, there are two parallel stories that don’t quite merge together.
In one, an old scientist contemplates his life at the end of the world. He finds a girl at the polar research station where he was alone and takes her to the relative safety that lies further north. But the girl is not real. She only exists in his imagination. So it's a bit like The Road with an imaginary child to look after. If there's one trope in contemporary storytelling that really irritates me it’s when a character interacts with an imaginary character. It’s the contemporary equivalent to the conversation with a ghost. It is even worse when much of a main character’s journey revolves around this trick (such as Mr Robot).
The other story involves a spaceship that’s returning from its cosmic exploration with news that it has discovered a planet that can sustain human life. The problem is, the earth that they they are returning to is about to become a radioactive wilderness (presumably after a Nuclear conflict). And, it just happens that a pregnant woman in this returning spaceship is revealed to be the old man's (real, non-imagined) daughter.
The old man starts off by consuming a lot of whisky and then he imagines that he's accompanied by his child-aged daughter. He leaves the research station and moves further north, to move away from the spreading radioactivity. The most dramatic situation in the film is when he sleeps over in a container when the ice it’s on melts and the container sinks into the ocean, and he narrowly escapes. The rest of the film it mostly people talking in rooms, often over they air.
As a slow, low-key film about global human folly, and one man’s attempt to retain his humanity, the story is fine. But for anything more, it fails to straddle the line from morose to life-affirming. The problem is that the old man doesn't feel like he has a real problem to fix, and having conversations with an imaginary girl only exacerbates his solipsism.
With most of the globe covered in radiation, life on Earth is pretty much over. Can he solve this? No.
Even though he manages to help out his daughter (she’s in a spacecraft orbiting Earth) plan her return journey to a habitable planet, she seems smart enough to work this out for herself. Presumably there are colonists on the inhabitable planet, so humanity will survive. The problem is that we haven’t met any of them, so it’s like an abstract concept. The result is a story that doesn’t feel very particularly satisfying.
How could it have been more satisfying? If the old man had solved a big problem, for example, if the imaginary girl was real he could have arranged for a rescue craft to come down to Earth and pick her up, to be able to take her to the inhabitable planet.
On the plus side there’s a fair amount of decent special effects, from the old man falling into the icy polar water at night to the orbiting spaceship and its crew encountering meteorite storms. And the old man is wearing a very nice check shirt.