For whatever reason, sci-fi is obsessed with saving humanity. It is a huge – nay, critical – task for the genre’s suspiciously young cosmonauts; a collection of Hollywood starlets that, for all their smarts in getting an actual job with NASA, still manage to find some absurd redeeming factors to our polluting, selfish, self-immolating ways. Prometheus’s Noomi Rapace seeks to bring down an Earth-bound alien armed with chemical weapons because if she doesn’t stop it, “There won’t be a home to go back to”. Hate to break it to you Nooms, but it’s probably not worth the hassle. Get on that starship with Fassbender and Theron stat, and bang those car keys in a bowl.
That’s George Clooney’s advice anyway in The Midnight Sky, the latest sci-fi head scratcher that sees its leading man ward off marooned starsplorers from returning to a barren, hostile, ruined Earth. Humans finished the job they started. So there’s no point, he says, in humans coming home.
As one of the few survivors back on terra firma, the 59-year-old has the kit one would expect: gorpcore parkas, a pair of goggles and a big, large, glorious, overgrown beard. It’s the sort you’d grow when you won’t see anyone for a while, cultivated through sheer laziness, or, probably, just for something to do. Selfies show a WhatsApp group divided: it’s commended, ridiculed or “jokes mate”, which is perhaps inadvertently worse than all the responses put together. We know this apocalyptic beard. Because in 2020, the apocalypse happened, causing us to either grow a Clooney beard, or compose a response to one on an encrypted chat app.
Like 2020, The Midnight Sky’s leading beard was full of unforeseen problems. “The ice you see in my beard is real,” the actor/director revealed. “If I’d gone inside for, you know, 10 minutes and it had melted, I’d just get on a snowmobile and spay water on my beard and it would all freeze up again in seconds.” Which meant more torture, more suffering, more minus-28 degree wind chills just to get the job done. A lot like juggling EOY sales reports with 24/7 childcare as the schools shut.
It’s a grizzled beard. It’s one that’s outgrown the weirdly patchy stage and the inevitable itchy stage for big, full, splendour – nature’s chin guard when the world forces one to take it on the chin. Again. And again. And again. The only salve? Beard up and seek comfort in cumulus-like follicular clouds.
We’re not sure when this is going to actually end, either. As that loudmouth Nostradamus well knows, apocalypses rarely land on schedule. But your own beard, like Clooney’s, will be an artefact of These Unprecedented Times. Jan Sewell, The Midnight Sky’s hair and makeup designer, begged the actor to keep his beard. When filming wrapped up, “in walked George, beard completely shaven off, looking about 12-years-old, and he had a present for me,” she said. “When he started to shave, he realised it was all coming off in one piece, so he put some clingfilm around it and said, ‘There’s your beard.’ It’s fantastic. But I also have a plan for it — it’s my pension plan. I’m going to sell it on eBay, I think.”
Which is a little bit haunted Victorian curio shop, granted, but you too can remember the end days scrolling through a sea of selfies (your own, or another’s) as the big bushy beard becomes an ‘I Survived 2020’ trophy. The Midnight Sky is an eerily prescient release as Covid-19 continues to wreck lives and jam lorries. Nobody from Jupiter’s third moon is coming to save us. But until this passes – and it will when vaccine become available en masse – hunker down Clooney style, put down the clippers and crack open the moisturising oil. It might not save humanity from itself, but staying in (and growing a beard) is probably the best chance you’ve got.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more delivered straight to your inbox
Need some positivity right now? Subscribe to Esquire now for a hit of style, fitness, culture and advice from the experts