The Midnight Sky’s Emotional and Confusing Ending, Explained

At first glance, it may seem as though ‘The Midnight Sky’ is simply another apocalyptic drama that explores the plight of the human race. However, it actively tugs at our heartstrings by interweaving various personal struggles into the narrative. With an ensemble cast that includes George Clooney and Felicity Jones, the film is as emotional as it is thought-provoking. So, without further ado, let’s discuss its many nuances, shall we? SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Midnight Sky Plot Synopsis

Dr. Augustine Lofthouse is a scientist who has devoted his entire career to finding a new, suitable exoplanet for humans to colonize. In fact, he previously suggested tapping into Jupiter’s once undiscovered moon, K-23. In 2049, a space flight, Aether, is returning to Earth after checking the moon out. Unbeknownst to them, a cataclysmic event has wiped out almost everything on Earth. The now terminally ill Augustine stays back at the Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle. 

The scientist is all alone in the facility and tries to look for any active space missions so as to warn them about Earth’s dire situation. Although Aether is currently active, he is unable to get in touch with them as the antenna at the facility is not a strong one. In the meantime, he also finds a small girl named Iris who is seeking shelter there. The two journey to the Lake Hazan base and brave many obstacles such as a ferocious snowstorm before making it to their destination. He is able to establish contact with the spacecraft for a bit before glitches occur. 

Owing to a meteor shower, the radar and comms on board Aether are damaged. So Commander Gordon Adewole leaves the ship with his pregnant partner, Sully, and another specialist, Maya, to fix the systems. Unfortunately, another meteor strike occurs and Maya is fatally injured. From this point out, the film tries to determine what the fate of the remaining characters will be. 

The communication system on Aether is finally working, and Adewole and Sully soon realize that they are talking to Dr. Augustine Lofthouse, whom they both respect a lot. The scientist, however, is the bearer of bad news as he tells them that there are no safe entry points left. Mitchell is adamant about going back to Earth and finding his family when he comes across a distressing video message that his wife had left him 10 days ago. Sanchez decides to go with Mitchell. The former wants to give Maya a proper burial, especially since she reminded him of his own deceased daughter. The two take a re-entry pod and head to certain death.

The Midnight Sky Ending: Is Iris Dr. Augustine’s Daughter?

Towards the end, Sully tells Augustine that he is the very reason that she joined NASA. In fact, it turns out that she is actually his daughter, Iris, and she talks passionately about K-23 as well; she compares it to Colorado. Juxtaposed with this is the image of the aged father and his young daughter on the moon.

It is evident that even though Augustine has never met his daughter, Iris/Sully has inherited the same passion for finding new, inhabitable exoplanets. By the climax, it is clear that the two have borne a generational curse, if we may call it that. Augustine has dedicated his entire life to the cause, and Iris must now ensure the survival of all of mankind on K-23. Sure, she is as dedicated as her father, but she didn’t ask for this responsibility. In Augustine’s case, he chose to go down this path. But as far as Sully is concerned, she is thrust into this precarious position owing to the apocalypse. 

We also don’t think it would be wrong to assume that Sully’s child will face considerable pressure in the future as well. After all, going by the information we get from the movie, it is evident that only Adewole and Sully have a shot at a “normal” life now. Everyone else has either already perished or is likely to die due to the harmful air that now envelopes Earth. The pair will face considerable logistical and technical issues when they actually land on K-23. Even in a best-case scenario, the hopes of humanity are pinned on Sully’s child.

It all starts with Augustine, who gave up Jean and Iris because he was so focused on his work. (It’s not that he didn’t love them. The separation simply appeared to be a matter of priority for Jean, who was not okay with him ignoring his family). Eventually, he looks at K-23 as an alternative for Earth, and what are the odds that his very own daughter is aboard the flight that goes to the moon? If anything, the apocalypse only speeds up the process of colonization, the onus of which now falls on Iris. It seems likely that her daughter, too, will face certain pressures in the future, and hence, this generational curse is one that won’t stop anytime soon. (Plus, there’s something to be said for the recurring motif of the girl child, which in our opinion, symbolizes regeneration and life).

Does Augustine Die in the End? Who is the Little Girl?

The story of ‘The Midnight Sky’ is, in a way, the story of Dr. Augustine Lofthouse itself. After all, none of these events would have transpired had he not taken on the challenging task of informing Aether about the plight of Earth. In fact, he even unknowingly conjures up a vision of Iris to get him through it. (Needless to say, she is that young since that was the last time that Augustine saw Iris). Ironically, the plot even comes full circle in many aspects. Therefore, the final communication between the father and his daughter becomes pertinent. 

Now, before we start this discussion, we concur that a feeling of death looms over the narrative from the beginning to the very end. For this reason, it isn’t all that unexpected when a character dies. In fact, we already know that Augustine is a terminally ill man and so he doesn’t have much more time left. It is for this very reason that he adamantly stays back at the Barbeau Observatory and the events of the film kick-off. 

If we trace the incidents that plague Augustine, it becomes clear that ‘The Midnight Sky’ is not simply a survival story. Not only is he sick, but he must also go to Lake Hazan to warn the returning astronauts. This journey itself is a difficult and impetuous one. He even loses his medicines on the way. So he is already having a tough time. In our opinion, it is likely that Augustine dies in the climax, and we think that the final conversation between Iris and him holds the clues.

You see, as the pair discuss what K-23 is like, our screens are also graced with a beautiful imagining of how Augustine and Iris enjoy the moon’s milieu (in an alternate universe). This rendition of events purely shows the love that the father has for his daughter. As Iris describes K-23’s atmosphere to Augustine, their silhouetted counterparts share a beautiful moment while holding hands. But after a few seconds, the young Iris disappears from the picture altogether.

This scene is important because it reveals that Augustine has finally received some form of closure when it comes to his family. In fact, we think that he imagines his young daughter in the first place because he knows that he is facing certain death. It’s almost as if not being there for his daughter is his one regret, and in his final moments, he is trying to somehow make up for it. Only towards the end do we find out that his mind has been playing tricks on him all this while. When Iris’ image disappears in that clip, it’s because Augustine’s mind can finally rest. With no anguish clouding his life anymore, we think that the scientist does succumb to a peaceful sleep.

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