George Clooney's latest directorial effort, the sci-fi drama The Midnight Sky, lands on Netflix on Dec. 23 right in time for some holiday season viewing. The Midnight Sky tells the story of Dr. Augustine Lofthouse (Clooney), a scientist who stays behind at an observatory in the Arctic Circle after most of humanity has either evacuated the planet or went into hiding underground after an unexplained apocalyptic event in 2049. He finds a child named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) left behind during the evacuation, and together the two try to make contact with the Aether, a spacecraft returning from a mission to Jupiter. The film cuts back and forth between Augustine and Iris' story as well as the Aether crew: Sully (Felicity Jones), Commander Gordon Adewole (David Oyelowo), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demián Bichir), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler).
The heart of the film comes from its source material, the novel Good Morning, Midnight, by Lily Brooks-Dalton. But there are a few minor changes from Good Morning, Midnight to The Midnight Sky, which was written by screenwriter Mark L. Smith. For one thing, the character of Augustine is supposed to be a 78-year-old man. Meaning the 59-year-old Clooney is nearly two decades younger than his on page counterpart. "I hadn’t read the book when I read the screenplay. So I just knew that he was really sick," Clooney explained to Deadline of the age gap. But Clooney still worked to get into character, losing about 25 pounds for the film. "I was more gaunt and more drawn in. It’s a trick because what you want to be is weak for the part, but you’re also directing, which you need to really be strong for and in shape and ready for."
Some other minor changes had to be incorporated due to co-star Felicity Jones' real life pregnancy. In the book, Sully has a daughter on Earth named Lucy with whom she has a somewhat strained relationship due to her devotion to space travel. But in the film, Lucy has been axed, and Jones' actual growing belly was added to the story. Clooney was already well into filming the Arctic scenes in Iceland when Jones called him to let him know she was pregnant.
"Our first step [then] was, we tried to shoot it without acknowledging it," Clooney tells SyFy. "We tried to do head replacements and shoot around it for a couple days. But it really takes the energy out of actors and she was desperately trying not to look pregnant. And I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, '[These astronauts] go away for two years and people have sex, so she got pregnant.' Once we leaned into it, we can have the [crew] trying to name it and we built an ultrasound machine in a day and put together a scene for Felicity and Tiffany. We loved it because they are listening for any sign of life and the only one is from Felicity's [womb] and it led to the ending, which feels like it always should have been there."
Other than that, The Midnight Sky stays relatively close to its source material. But there is one other minor plot change to the film that does have to do with the ending, so beware, spoilers for both The Midnight Sky and Good Morning Midnight ahead.
After Augustine and Iris make contact with the Aether and let them know about the state of the planet, in the book the ship lands at the ISS. But in the film, Mitchell and Sanchez head down to Earth, while Sully and Adewole turn the ship around and return to Jupiter to join the colonization efforts on the moon K23, where some humans have already started a colony.
There's also another late film twist of an emotional wallop that isn't changed from the book: the viewer realizes that the young child Iris doesn't actually exist. She's a figment of Augustine's imagination, the daughter he never knew from a relationship hinted at earlier in the film through flashbacks. But when Augustine and Sully converse again right before the end, she reveals her real first name: Iris. She's the daughter he never knew, and he's the reason she became an astronaut. It's a twist that's quite powerful in the film, and inspiring enough to want to read it over again, even if the surprise is gone, in Good Morning, Midnight.