Saturday, September 05, 2015

Last Night (1998) ****

Filmmakers, creators that they are, love to destroy things. Blowing up a car, or even better, a building, must be a huge thrill. And if those are fun, then how much more fun to destroy the entire earth? Thus, end-of-the-world movies are a recurring theme. Unfortunately, most of these movies focus on the asteroid or whatever, when the really interesting thing is the people. How does humanity react when the end is nigh? More than any Armageddon-themed film I've seen, “Last Night” dispenses with the science-fiction stuff and focuses on how several people face the last few hours of existence. (I'm talking here about the independent Canadian film from 1998, not the 2010 relationship drama by the same name starring Keira Knightley.)

While we aren't told exactly what is going to destroy the world, we soon understand that the end has been anticipated for months, and that society has already worked itself through quite a few throes of unrest. Nonetheless, civilization remains largely intact in the Canadian city where the film is set, with people still enjoying electricity and telephone service as they face their last night. In fact, one of the characters, who manages the gas company, spends much of his final day calling every one of his customers, wishing them well and assuring them that the company will try to keep gas flowing right up until the end. Patrick (writer, director Don McKellar) is a depressed widower planning to meet the End alone. Sandra (Sandra Oh) braves the downtown, crawling with violent mobs, to plunder supplies for a last meal with her husband. When her car is destroyed by the mobs, she enlists Patrick's help to get across town to her man. They get some help from Patrick's friend, Craig, who is putting the finishing touches on a massive project of sexual conquest. Each of the characters, whose stories cross and re-cross, is facing the end in his own way.

End-of-the-world movies resonate because they so readily serve as a metaphor for our actual human condition. The End is coming for us all. The difference in a movie like “Last Night” is that everyone is meeting their End at the same time. I'm not sure which option is scarier, but in any case, “Last Night” approaches the end of the world with the right balance of pathos and humor. The film is actually quite well-done. My only complaint is that the digital cinematography is rather ugly.

The down-side to a movie like this is that it gets you thinking. Any night could be your last night, and if tonight were my last night, how would I want to spend it? Probably not watching this movie, or any movie for that matter. But there's a limit to this kind of thinking. You can't go moonlight BASE-jumping every night. Sometimes you just want to unwind and watch a flick. A funny, cool flick like “Last Night.”

4 stars out of 5

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