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The Ending Of The Midnight Sky Explained

The global apocalypse never looked as stunning as it does in The Midnight Sky. George Clooney's adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton's Good Morning, Midnight presents a future filled with irony, as a manned space crew manages to confirm the habitability of one of Jupiter's moons at the exact time humanity has all but destroyed itself back on Earth.

The story centers on two sides of this journey, as we follow the astronauts who are braving the unknown to achieve a prosperous new future for mankind and a lonely scientist who is witnessing untold doom back on Earth from his remote research facility. Their paths cross along the way in more ways than one, and by the end, it is clear that these two perspectives are forever intertwined. For those who have finished the Netflix film and may want to do a deeper dive into what just happened in the story, let's break down everything that happened in the ending to The Midnight Sky. Beware: spoilers follow!

Yes, she is that Iris

The final moments of The Midnight Sky really bring home the connection between Augustine (Clooney) and Sully (Felicity Jones) with the reveal of just a single word: Iris. Early in the movie, we learn that Iris is the name of the little girl (played by Caoilinn Springall) who appears to be accidentally left behind with Augie in the research lab and who becomes his companion as he makes way for the Lake Haven satellite station to make contact with Aether. Though Augustine is initially reluctant to take care of her, especially given his own state of constant inebriation and declining health, he eventually grows very fond of the child and does everything in his power to protect her.

As the closing moments of the movie show, little Iris is just a figment of Augie's imagination, but she is based on a real kid. Flashbacks to Augie's younger days reveal that his jilted lover gave birth to a daughter, and he got to see the child from a distance once. His memory of the girl has informed his version of Iris, while that girl grew up to be known as Sully. Augie didn't make verbal contact with Iris as a child — which is probably why his apparition does not speak — but he finally gets the chance to communicate with his daughter and steer her from the danger in the end. 

Not dead... yet

By the end of The Midnight Sky, it's clear that Augustine is not long for his world. After he successfully connects with the crew of the Aether at the satellite outpost, there is little left for him to look forward to. He will likely not be able to return to the larger research facility since his snowmobile has been lost, and the same ice crumbling accident that cost him his vehicle also left his pack of chemotherapy treatment supplies at the bottom of the freezing lake.

Augie mentions several times in the movie that the world is now uninhabitable everywhere — and a satellite image of a smoke-clouded Earth confirms the same for those onboard the Aether — and Augie knows it is merely a matter of time before his desolate region of the world is also consumed by the radiation that has spread everywhere else. It's clear that he knows there is no hope for him, but much like the source material, which doesn't explicitly state his fate, audiences don't see him actually perish as a result of his condition. The final shot of Augie does reveal a sense of resolution for him, however, as he steps into the wintry outdoors to observe the night sky as the Aether passes by for its final voyage. He holds the fictional Iris' hand one last time with a smile, seemingly acknowledging he has completed his mission to keep her safe.

Two take a chance

Augustine makes it completely clear to the crew of the Aether that there is no safe haven for them back on Earth. Both Sully and Adewole (David Oyelowo) ask him about potential options for reentry, and he insists that the only habitable places left are underground, and even those are temporary. However, there are two astronauts who are convinced that they must return to Earth: Mitchell (Kyle Chandler) and Sanchez (Demian Bichir).

For Mitchell, it is both a matter of completing the mission as it was originally prescribed and also taking a chance, no matter how slim it might be, at being reunited with his wife and two sons. Once the communications mechanisms are restored, he belatedly receives a message from his wife letting him know that his sons are sick and they are all being evacuated. Whether they are in a safe place underground is unclear, but Mitchell always calculated mortal dangers to himself into his line of work, so he remains willing to risk it. Sanchez joins him because it takes two crewmembers to operate the reentry pod, and he wants to escort the body of their fallen crewmate Maya (Tiffany Boone) back to Earth. He may not have any family back on Earth, but Maya reminded him of the daughter he lost many years before, so he feels this is a worthwhile effort. Both men appear to know, however, that they are unlikely to survive upon returning to the inhospitable planet.

Turning back

Though Mitchell and Sanchez return to whatever is left on Earth, Sully and Adewole decide to implement Augie's plan to slingshot Aether around the planet and return to K-23, a moon on Jupiter that Augustine had previously pointed to as potentially habitable. The Aether's initial exploration of the locale proved that his theory was correct, and Sully knows from her personal experience on the ground that K-23 boasts breathable air and other resources. During her final conversation with Augustine, Sully takes the opportunity to communicate with him about what this new "world" is like, describing it as having an atmosphere similar to the mountainous regions of Colorado.

Beyond the viability of life on K-23, Sully and Adewole have yet another reason to return there instead of Earth. Sully is currently pregnant with Adewole's child — a daughter whose potential name became a point of conversation and jest between the crewmates before their fates were made clear to them by the restored comms devices. What they will ultimately name the child is undecided by the time they begin charting their return to K-23, but the little one has obviously given them another reason to retreat to a survivable alternative to Earth.

A statement on loneliness

There are several themes to be found throughout The Midnight Sky, but the prevailing message of the story is the importance of human, and particularly familial, connections. Augustine's entire journey, including his fabrication of young Iris, is his way of coping with what he has lost by not spending more time with his real child while he had the chance. Augie has been purposefully isolated from others and single-mindedly focused on his work, even declining the chance to evacuate with the others from his research facility.

His cruelty to and dismissiveness of Sully's mother is what made it so that Sully doesn't know that Augustine is her father, but she has still admired his legacy so much that it inspired her to join the space program. With death looming for him and the world at large, Augustine finally reckons with the fact that deep down he did want to be a father to Iris, and both his imagination and actions come together to make her safe one last time. He seems to find ultimate peace when he hears from Sully that she has followed his career and that she is grateful to him for steering herself and Adewole (and their baby-to-be) back to K-23.

The book has a very different conclusion

Like its source material, The Midnight Sky leaves us on a somewhat open-ended note, but there are many differences to be found between what happens in the last act of the movie and the final pages of the book, Good Morning, Midnight. For one thing, the book version of Augustine has an even more metaphorical ending, as he embraces a polar bear that has been tailing him for some time — an act that many readers perceive to be him meeting his death at last.

Another major difference is that Sully is among the Aether crew members — alongside Harper, upon whom Adewole is based, and another character named Tal — who return to Earth. Meanwhile, Ivanov, whose familial situation most closely resembles the movie character Mitchell, and Thebes, who is much like Sanchez, decide to live out their days on Aether because they believe they have nothing to return home to. Another major difference between the movie and book's endings is that while Sully still has a daughter, she is a nine-year-old named Lucy who remained back on Earth during Sully's mission. Meanwhile, her romantic relationship with Harper has only just begun when they suit up to return to Earth. What happened to Earth remains unclear in both versions of the story, but the full scope of the planet's doom is not as obvious to Sully in the book.