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Movie Critic Review: Midnight Express 1978

Review by: Ema Elsawi Sutradhar* 

Midnight Express is one outstanding movie not only because it tells a true story but also because it contains a lot of humanitarian themes that describe the conflict between laws and their relevance to humanity.


The son of a US official at age twenty is arrested at a Turkish airport for possession of an illegal substance. The movie follows the events of his arrest as per Turkish laws and his imprisonment as a trip into two estrangements: being a prisoner and being away from home.

The movie highlights the other side of law applied through corrupt instruments; delving deeply into the details of the daily life of prisoners and the excessive cruelties they are subjected to. It depicts how these prisoners come together and integrate to share the many details through which high human values manifest themselves despite the dark corridors of prison.

Alan Parker 1978
Midnight Express has drawn in my memory such an exquisite painting through its photography, music and the sounds that surrounded the movement of its cast. The blending of Turkish singing with the voice of the Azan (caller for prayer),from time to time, reflects the depth of alienation in the prison.
The prisoner (Billy ), so fond of his lover (Susan), is haunted by fear of separation. He believes that committing a crime does not mean he should be stripped of all human emotions. He explains this in the messages that he has written from his prison, hoping to boost his resistance to the obnoxious condition of imprisonment.
Nothing, of any kind, provided by the laws applied to prisoners, approves their rape and or humiliation. The principle of law at the age of imprisonment is to allow self review and to help rearrange one's insides without any prejudice to his right as a prisoner to sustain his human dignity.

The sufferings in the prison turn the prisoners into maniacs roaming the columns of the place as if it were the Ka'bah. Each one of them resigned to a certain direction. Billy, the protagonist, moves in the opposite direction to this unfair tawaf (going around)! Someone yells at him: walk to the right! Left is communist; Right is good! Left is hell; Right is well! Billy continues refusing to hear their voices while they, submissively, keep touring those high marble columns of the prison as if they were parts of the fortified Ka'bah of injustice! Someone catches up with Billy and says: "The bad machine does not know it's a bad machine! You still don't know you are a bad machine!" Billy answers, in a voice both tremulous and strong: " I know you are the bad machine! That is why the factory keeps you here!"
Midnight Express exhibits well-contrived symbolism and stark harshness that drive the feelings in all directions. It takes the viewer in a tawaf from anxiety to some sort of hope that lies behind its scenes. In short, it is an imposing film.

* Ema is a Law graduate who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

Oliver Stone

Movie Specs

Midnight Express 1978
UK/USA 121 min Color Mono 
Genre: Drama (Prison Film). Rated R.
Lang. English, Maltese, French
Director: Alan Parker: (Pink Floyd- The Wall, Mississippi Burning, Evita...)
Screenplay: Oliver Stone (won Oscar for this screenplay; Platoon, Wall Street, Scarface, U Turn...) The screenplay was based on two books by Billy Hayes and William Hoffer.
Music Score: Giorgio Moroder (score for Scarface)
Cast: Brad Davis (Billy), John Hurt (Max), Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins.


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