Midnight Mass Captures The Dying Church Culture In America

The show takes place in an isolated community that hinges upon a single church.

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At the start of Midnight Mass, we’re shown a bird’s eye view of Crockett Island, a sleepy fishing town with a population of just 127 people. Sitting in the middle of the ocean, the island is isolated from the rest of the world. It’s later revealed that there are two ferries that go to the mainland, but it’s a full day’s journey to go there and back. The remoteness of the island is key to Midnight Mass, which kicks off when a charismatic priest arrives and claims he can perform miracles and reinvigorate the dying community.

The tired look of the town sets the tone for the whole show, but Crockett Island is not actually a real place. As Mike Flanagan explained in a tweet on Dec. 16, 2020, Midnight Mass was filmed at Garry Point Park, a historical park in Richmond, Canada, which is close to Vancouver. It was a tightly controlled set due to lockdown protocols, and according to a Vancouver filmmaker, most of the buildings you see in Midnight Mass were constructed specifically for the show. (Today, you can visit the park, but it’s unclear if the Midnight Mass structures are still standing.)

Though Crockett Island existed just as a set, it’s likely that Flanagan drew inspiration for the location from his own upbringing. In an Aug. 9 tweet, he shared a picture of him at “about 10 years old, just starting my career as an altar boy at Our Lady Star of the Sea on Governors Island, NY.” He added that he recently visited the church, which is now abandoned, with his wife Kate Siegel (who plays Erin in Midnight Mass). “This story runs deep for me,” he wrote.

Flanagan grew up in Massachusetts, and there is a place called Crockett’s Cove off the nearby coast of Maine. Per the website, Crockett’s Cove is a coastal and densely forested nature preserve on Deer Isle, a quiet island of about 3,000 residents.

In the show, the community of Crockett revolves around the single church on the island, which was once popular but is serving a dwindling congregation when Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) arrives. This is an echo of what’s happening to many churches today. As Jonathan Merritt wrote in The Atlantic in 2018, most churches can no longer afford to stay open, and 6,000 to 10,000 churches are closed each year in America. Though more than 70% of Americans identify as Christian, attendance at mass is on the decline — an issue that’s brought up more than once by the characters in Midnight Mass. Father Paul believes he has the answer to fill up the pews, but his solution has devastating consequences.

Eike Schroter/Netflix

Ultimately, Crockett Island is just a fictional place where Flanagan is able to explore what he calls his most “personal” work to date. As he explained to Entertainment Weekly, Midnight Mass is a passion project that took him years to get greenlit. “Here's this long scene I had written about atheism. Let me look at that a few years later and rebut it. Let me try to honestly come in and challenge my own idea. Here's a long scene about alcoholism. Let me really try to come in and talk about recovery," he said, explaining all the Midnight Mass drafts he created and discarded over the years. "Being in conversation with my various selves over the last 11 years, that have all dipped into this story, that's what makes it so personal for me. I don't know that I'll ever be lucky enough to have that experience again with another piece of work."

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