The Midnight Sky

The Midnight Sky Ending Explained-What Happened To Earth, What’s Wrong With Augustine, And Does Iris Exist?

Netflix’s The Midnight Sky is a measured mix of bleak resolution and hopeful determination that is as confounding as it is gorgeous.

The George Clooney vehicle premiering on Netflix today features an impressive amount of spaceship imagination, frigid cold, and full-bodied facial hair. Netflix’s newest apocalyptic sci-fi thriller manages to balance high concept special effects and a poignant if somewhat obvious message. In between the beautiful but impractical views of Aether, the last ship headed back to Earth, and numbing vistas of an impossibly frozen tundra, there are clues to the shocking ending. What does the emotional ending of The Midnight Sky mean?

George Clooney’s Augustine has remained on Earth when everyone else has evacuated to space, hoping to escape a global disaster. He is dying and gives himself nightly transfusions, which are the only things keeping him alive. The environmental event is intentionally vague. It doesn’t matter what happened. Some form of climate change has contaminated the air destroying all hope of humanity’s habitation.

The Artic is one of the few places left with breathable air, and Augustine has decided to use his last days to contact the Aether, a ship tasked with exploring a Goldlock’s planet discovered by Augustine. They have been gone for two years and are returning home to find Earth is no longer safe. The catch is they don’t know there is a problem yet. Communications are down, and Augustine hopes by taking a harrowing trek with his young charge across an icy stretch, he can use a more powerful satellite to contact the ship.

The Midnight Sky
Courtesy of Netflix-THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020) The Aether spacecraft.

After nearly losing his life, he manages to make it to the station and contact the Aether. He tells them to turn around and return to K 23. Two crew members return to Earth, and Sully and her partner Commander Gordon(David Oyelowo), turn the ship around after talking one final time to Augustine. She reveals he was the one that prompted her to be an astronaut. Her mother was Jean Sullivan, who we saw in amber-hued flashbacks throughout the film. Augustine neglected Jean and his daughter. He sacrificed his time with them to research Kepler 23. Sully’s first name is Iris. In the final scene, Augustine looks out over a colorful sky while holding Iris’ hand. In the next shot, the little girl is gone. Sully and Commander Gordon return to Kepler 23.

What happened to Earth?

Some unknown ‘event caused radiation to spike and spread throughout Earth. The Greenhouse Effect would account for this as well as the reverse. If Earth’s atmosphere thinned, cosmic radiation or radiation from solar flares would harm the Earth. Views from the Aether of Earth show a planet that is covered in a thick brown haze of clouds. The Greenhouse Effect would most likely fit this vision of the future.

What’s wrong with George Clooney’s Augustine?

Throughout the movie, Augustine gives himself blood transfusions and takes medication. The pills appear to be pain killers. He has a nagging cough and looks haggard even before making the trip to the other satellite. In all likelihood, he has some form of cancer that either started in his bone marrow, like Leukemia or has spread there from another location. The coughing Augustine does throughout lends credence to the theory that he has lung cancer that has metastasized to his marrow.

Bone marrow makes red blood cells. Transfusions are needed to replace red blood cells destroyed by chemotherapy, radiation, and bone marrow impediment. Bleeding from internal organs like the kidneys and spleen can also contribute to red blood cell loss. After losing his portable transfusion machine, Augustine is on borrowed time. With the throwaway comments made at the beginning of the film but the other scientists, his symptoms, and Mitchell’s son’s illness on Earth, he may have some form of radiation poisoning from whatever happened to the planet. Radiation poisoning would explain all his symptoms, including cancer.

The names are important in The Midnight Sky.

All of the names are hidden clues to what happens at the end. The ship is named the Aether. Aether, or commonly spelled ether, is a hypothetical substance that exists everywhere. It is the source of light and radiation waves. For Augustine, the crew, specifically Sully, are like ether. They theoretically exist, but until he talks to them, they are only as real as the figment that is young Iris. That is an early clue that child Iris may be on the ship.

Augustine’s unusual name has meaning as well. Saint Augustine was a fourth-century philosopher famous for infusing the argument by analogy theory into theological doctrine. René Descartes memorably said, “I think therefore I am,” where Saint Augustine said, “If I am mistaken, I am.” The concept is that as long as others share a similar experience or idea, then your own ideas have merit. Clooney’s Augustine believes he is justified in abandoning his child to continue his research into Kepler 23. Even if he is wrong, his belief justifies his decision.

Iris means wisdom and hope. Augustine represents knowledge or wisdom, and the little girl and Sully on the ship represent hope. Hope for the future and hope that he could save his daughter when it mattered despite his decisions. Mitchell mentions that Sully should name her child Hyacinth. This name has several meanings. Hyacinths are a flower that depending on the color, have several meanings. One of the most common colors is purple. Purple hyacinths symbolize regret and the need for forgiveness. Giving Sully a chance to raise her child is Augustine’s chance at redemption.

The ending is really about hope and regret.

Choices have consequences, and everyone has regrets. After Augustine tells the ship to return to K 23, two crew members elect to return to Earth anyway. Mitchell(Kyle Chandler) returns to find his family. He knows they are probably gone, but he made a promise to return home. For him, he struggles with the idea that his time in space left them vulnerable. He was supposed to be the one taking risks while they were safe.

Sanchez(Demián Bichir) chooses to go back to Earth to take Maya(Tiffany Boone), who died earlier. His daughter died years ago, and Maya reminds him of her. He feels a sense of responsibility to Maya heightened by her young death. For Sanchez, his grief supersedes everything else. His sole purpose is to confront death and honor Maya and his daughter. They both are more involved father figures than Augustine ever was. The film closes with Augustine’s vision of the planet he hoped would nurture humanity and his daughter and Commander Gordon on the ship. All three are hopeful things they have done or will do will contribute to our survival.

Was Iris ever with Augustine?

You probably saw it coming. There were clues all along that Iris didn’t exist. Sully has abandonment nightmares, and parents on the Aether all carry the burden of their lost time with their children. A child who appears from nowhere right when she is needed the most is improbable. One that manages to live through an evening out in the elements alone is impossible. Augustine is dying.

He has very little time left, and his mind provides him the impetus he needs to keep going. It’s never too late to right wrongs. Even in death, there can be absolution. For Augustine and Sully, that comes in the form of the knowledge that Augustine could save his daughter and potentially humanity. He is potentially the last man left on Earth but his sacrifices in his early years and as he dies allow his daughter, who he never knew, to return safely to Kepler 23.

Augustine only glimpsed his daughter from afar. He never actually met her, so the little girl he imagines is frozen in time. Jean told Augustine in a flashback to meet his daughter. She was the same age as the child he interacted with throughout the film. She never spoke because Augustine never heard his daughter speak. The Iris he envisioned is based on a brief glimpse of a little girl he would never know.

The Midnight Sky
Courtesy of Netflix

The lingering final shot that seems to go on for eternity speaks of the heavy burden of being the last potential humans left alive is. For all they know, no one else made it off the planet. There is no communication except for with Augustine, and no other ships have responded to the calls. Daunting doesn’t even begin to describe their plight. Problems with the ship and her pregnancy are solely their problems now. It’s a terrifying thought that could easily overwhelm them. Instead, after allowing themselves a moment to reflect, they get back to the work of survival.

Who doesn’t think about our next home? Humans are really good at consuming and altering things. Earth may be on its last legs. If The Midnight Sky is correct, we are less than twenty years from its destruction whether you envision an environmental catastrophe or a more violent disaster like HBO Max’s Raised By Wolves, which coincidently also goes to a Kepler planet, Kepler 22b. Until the end of the world comes, let’s hope scientists continue to fight the good fight. Not all of us are cut out for space.