I’d been meaning to see this for years- a low-key, end of the world movie from Canada that was more about how people would react to knowing the world was ending and when, than how it would end. It was more akin to the great 80’s sleeper Miracle Mile than silly stuff like Armageddon. It manages to be quite gripping by not showing or telling us what’s coming, but letting us live with a small group of people and their last days on Earth.
“This is the way the world ends- not with a bang, but a whimper.”
T.S. Eliot’s elegiac chorus from his poem “The Hollow Men” has become almost hackneyed in repetition, but Don McKellar took it to heart when he wrote and directed Last Night, a wistful look at the final 6 hours of a small group of people, and of course, the entire world. This is a more cerebral end of the world picture, reminiscent of The Quiet Earth in ways. In Toronto, we meet a small family preparing for the world to end in 6 hours, at midnight. The older mother and father are hosting a gathering, like a final Christmas send-off; their son Patrick (McKellar) becomes the link between the other folks we meet. He wants to spend the final time alone, listening to music in his apartment.
His friend is racking up final sexual conquests, while a woman (Sandra Oh) tries to meet with her husband for a one last romantic dinner, but he’s still at work, calling customers of the gas company to reassure them that they will keep the gas running until the bitter end. How civilized. Of course others run amok, and the loneliness and desperation of an inevitable, unavoidable demise rests heavily on everyone’s shoulders. The film creates a singular mood that is quite compelling, and the actors are well suited, culled from the incestuous Canadian film industry. David Cronenberg plays the gas company man, with surprising talent. The film is charming in how people cling to societal conventions even in the face of apocalypse.
Patrick meets Sandra in the street, after he car is vandalized and she waits on the trolley for a driver who will never come. A mother and child wait stubbornly on the train, unable to realize that the system has already fallen apart. Patrick decides to help Sandra get to her husband, and tries to borrow a car from some friends- but they need it for a violin recital. You see, he’s finally got a chance to play at the orchestra, and would you like to come? Not if it was the last day on Earth, apparently. These subtle jokes keep the tone from becoming too depressing, and gives us a chance for a little introspection and inevitable dinner conversation after it’s over- what would you do?
Patrick knows his sex-hungry friend has a few cars; but he is loathe to part with any of them, because he wants to die with a classic car collection. And two is not a collection; that’s just a guy with two cars. He who dies with the most toys wins, not just a bumper sticker, but a way of life.
We never learn what’s causing Earth’s sudden destruction at midnight, except that it’s been constant daylight for the past 6 months. No night, no stars; an arctic summer for everyone in Toronto, at least. It made me wonder what things were like on the other side of the world, with six months of darkness, or if the world was heading into the sun; it’s never explained, which is good, because it’s not meant to be a science fiction picture like The Quiet Earth. It’s a good drama with some mild laughs and epiphanies, and it really drew me in to feel for the characters. A nice chance of pace from your typical end of the world film.
The movie came out in 1998, when many people were concerned about with millennial doomsday predictions, or the anticlimactic concerns over computer malfunctions. Countries that spent millions in preparation seemed to fare as well as those who didn’t, but the turning of the great odometer inspired a slew of disaster movies. This is the anti-disaster movie, and a good way to spend some time, thinking about what you’d do; better than similar pap like The Bucket List, anyway.