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Movie of the Day: Last Night (1998)

10 Jan

LastNight

What would you do if you knew that the world was going to end at midnight? If we knew it was absolutely the last night on earth and we had ample warning, how would we spend it? Some would spend time with family and friends. Others wouldn’t wait until midnight. Some would spend it in church. Some would settle old scores either with apologies or with a gun. Others would spend it on a sexual free-for-all. Many, I suspect, would turn to violence and destruction – that is, if I now humanity the way I think I do.

‘Last Night’ is an end-of-the-world scenario that examines how a group of individuals choose to spend their final hours on earth. Sandra (the wonderful Sandra Oh) spends all day trying to get back home to her husband Duncan (David Cronenberg) after her car is trashed by looters; Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) wants to spend the day living out all of his deepest sexual fantasies; Patrick (Don McKellar, the film’s director) is a young widower who wants to spend his last evening at home listening to music; Sandra’s husband Duncan owns the power station and spends his day waiting for Sandra by calling his customers to let them know that the power will remain on right to the end.
Those personal stories set this movie apart from most films about the end-times which tend to portray the end of the world as a disaster movie, with falling buildings, mass hysteria, looting and hyper-active special effects. This film is quiet because it focuses on personalities. I can imagine Robert Altman directing a movie like this.

It is directed instead by Don McKellar who shows a lot of restraint with this characters and his stories. The people act as real people would and talk as real people might. He sets the story in Toronto (this is a Canadian production) on an unknown date and never gives a reason for why the world is ending – the characters already know, so why sit around yapping about it? The sun never goes down, even at 10pm so we assume that the sun is about to go supernova (why exactly midnight is never revealed either). The mass looting has subsided because there is nothing left to steal. What looting remains only happens in the backgrounds of certain shots. There are no police anywhere and, we’re told, the governments of the world shut down some time ago.

Those details in place, this is simply a movie about personalities. The most intriguing is Sandra who, I think, represents most of us. She has an agenda (one that isn’t revealed until the third act) and her face is a mask of frustration as she attempts to find some mode of transportation to get across town and back to her husband. She’s played by the wonderfully underrated Sandra Oh who is one of the most relaxed and natural actresses. I’ve seen her in films like Sideways and Rabbit Hole but there she reveals a whole different level. What is waiting for Sandra when she gets back with Duncan is painful, but even more is the issue of not getting being able to back to him. She as a promise to keep to him and it is killer her that she cannot fulfill it.

Nothing can bring about our faith nor our true nature like knowing that the end is near. That fact brings an odd unpredictability to Last Night because we get to know the characters but we wait to see the poignancy in their final moments. This is a sad film but not a maudlin one. The fact that director Don McKellar avoids the obvious melodramatic high point and just focuses on people and who they are makes the end of the film inevitable, unpredictable on a personal level and finally very touching.

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