Last Night Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

My husband and I are going to commit suicide. We're going to kill each other at midnight.
You must really love him then.
Writer/director Don McKellar

"Last Night" is the flip-side to the end-of-the-world scenarios that played out this past summer in "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon". Instead of larger-than-life heroes and the hope of a last-minute solution that will defer the imminent apocalypse, "Last Night" presents the Canadian approach to dealing with an impending cataclysm: there's nothing you can do, so you might as well make the best of it.

This is CKRT and you're listening to the top 500 songs of all time...

When the film opens, it is 6 o'clock at night in Toronto and the world has only six hours left. Though the cause of humanity's extinction is never established, it is a certainty that some celestial event will vaporize all life on Earth at the stroke of midnight. At this point, the government of Canada has already collapsed, stores have long-been emptied, and gangs of thugs and revelers roam the deserted and debris-strewn streets. The story focuses on how a few average Canadians spend their final hours on Earth, and how they cross paths on their way to finding fulfillment and meaning. Some will uphold the established structure to their lives in an attempt to maintain a sense of normality, while others will abandon all propriety and meet the end as defiantly and hedonistically as possible, like 'it's the closing hours of Studio 54'. Like your prototypical Canadian movie, their activities involve much talking, self-reflection, violence, and deviant sex.

Are you going to a party?
You have people coming over?
No, I'm going to be here, by myself.

Patrick Wheeler (writer/director Don McKellar), whose wife's death still hangs heavily upon him, is at his parents', who are throwing a faux 'Christmas' feast to ring in the occasion. Jennifer (Sarah Polley of "The Sweet Hereafter"), Patrick's sister, is going to party in the streets with her boyfriend Alex (Trent McMullen). Sandra (Sandra Oh of "Double Happiness") is a young woman rushing home to spend time with her husband. However, when her car gets trashed, she ends up being helped by Patrick, who has left his parents' party early so that he can spend his last hours alone in his apartment.

Please be assured that we will do our utmost to keep the gas going until the very end.

Duncan (David Cronenberg, the director of "Crash") is an executive for the gas company that is systematically calling up all his customers to thank them for his business and promising to keep the gas going until the very end. Craig Zwiller (Callum Keith Rennie) is fulfilling every sexual fantasy he has ever had, including bedding a French teacher (Genevieve Bujold of "Coma") he had a boyhood crush on. A budding young pianist has his performance debut in an empty concert hall. A woman (Arsinee Khanjian of "Exotica") and her daughter wait for the end in an abandoned streetcar. And a homeless woman (Jackie Burroughs) gleefully runs through the city counting down the final hours.

The world is ending tonight at midnight, and that's kept me pretty occupied lately.

The origin of "Last Night" came out of an idea for a TV series entitled "2000, seen by...", which would have explored apocalyptic scenarios envisioned by ten different directors in ten different countries. Among those slated to participate in the series included Hal Hartley, Tsai Ming Liang, and Don McKellar. However, the stories that came out of this collaboration eventually became feature films, and hence "Last Night" came to be (Tsai Ming Liang's "Hole" was also borne out of this project).

You have to put it all in perspective... people die all over, and soon we all will.

"Last Night" is Don McKellar's first directorial feature, and has already won numerous accolades, including a prize at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and Best Canadian First Feature at the recent Toronto International Film Festival. Similar to "On the Beach", each of the characters are trying to find a sense of achievement in their last hours, so that they can die knowing that they had not squandered their life. This is the struggle that Patrick must overcome, who feels more comfortable wallowing in his own self-pity. Of course, the impending cataclysm of the film serves as a metaphor for the fleetingness of life, with its central point being to make the best of the time that is left, whether it's 60 minutes or 60 years, instead of squandering it.

When you go home at midnight, alone, you'll remember that your parents weren't so bad.

Despite the grim material, "Last Night" is not as poignant as one would expect. For one, the typically-Canadian pedestrian pacing subverts the sense of urgency from the story. Furthermore, McKellar has imbibed his script with a lot of satirical humor that emphasizes the awkward and absurd situations that Patrick finds himself in, despite the weightier issues hanging above his head. While this satirical edge is certainly welcome (especially all the Canadian in-jokes) and helps to defuse the tension, McKellar keeps them coming, right until the bitter end, and the emotional build-up at the film's close seems muted.

I just don't want to have bad sex today. I don't want that to be the last thing on my mind.

Furthermore, the story lacks conflict. Patrick doesn't have to fight through angry mobs, make hard choices, or even get into an argument with anyone-- he just has to open up in order to resolve his outstanding issues. Without any tension or conflict resolution, there is not much in the sense of a pay-off for Patrick.

Tell me something that will make me love you. It doesn't have to be much.

However, despite these flaws, "Last Night" is quite a memorable film. It emphasizes epiphany over effects, and still manages to be thought-provoking despite some salacious material. Of course, if you are a Canadian like me, it also makes for an interesting look at how relatively well-behaved Canadians would be compared to the doomsday scenarios of "Deep Impact" and "Armageddon".

See ya.
No, you won't.

Images courtesy of Alliance Releasing. All rights reserved.

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