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Last Night

Entry updated 13 May 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1998). Rhombus Media presents in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Haut et Court and La Sept-Arte a film produced with the participation of Téléfilm Canada. Written and directed by Don McKellar. Cast includes Michael Barry, Geneviève Bujold, Jackie Burroughs, David Cronenberg, Robin Gammell, Arsinée Khanjian, Roberta Maxwell, Don McKellar, Sandra Oh, Sarah Polley, Callum Keith Rennie and Tracy Wright. Colour. 95 minutes.

An ensemble of characters in the City of Toronto faces the End of the World.

"It's at times like this I really miss the night," says depressed widower Patrick Wheeler (McKellar) to the similarly (but more recently) widowed Sandra (Oh) as the duo, each holding a gun to the other's head, chooses to kiss (rather than kill one another) as the world ends. The resulting fade-to-white foreshadows McKellar's adaptation for the screen of José Saramago's novel Ensaio sobre a cegueira (1995; trans Blindness 1997) as Blindness (2008), but in the case of Last Night, this is the only allusion to the planetary Disaster that prompts the behavioural dynamics of the film's characters. Some reviewers felt it "wise" of McKellar to offer no explanation of the cause of the apocalypse – some increase of energy from the Sun, perhaps, or some planetary misalignment in the Solar System – but the decision does lend the "desperate last acts" of McKellar's cast of characters the air of a wry contrivance or late night party-game rather than of a series of meaningful responses to the end of all living things. "The world is ending tonight at midnight and that's kept me pretty occupied lately," Patrick says as he swears off the mock-Christmas of nostalgia and childhood Toys organized by his mother (Maxwell), father (Gammell) and sister (Polley), and returns instead to his apartment to be button-holed for a lift across town by Sandra, whose husband, gas company employee Duncan (Cronenberg), finds himself (rather unpersuasively) murdered by a gun-toting street rioter in a fit of existential pique, thereby preventing the reunion of husband and wife and the fulfilment of their own suicide pact.

Last Night is far stronger on the Humour and pathos of its interrelationships than it is in its depictions of the collapse of society; its street-scenes are, for the most part, mercifully free of American fantasies of rape, pillage and plunder, but tend toward the usual mode of mainstream movies that fail to fully dramatize the connection between Clichés from Genre SF (such as the end of the world) to the behaviour of characters who might easily personify what the Metaphysics of being alive or dead at the end of the world really means. Patrick's friend Craig Zwiller (Rennie) is having as much Sex in his last hours as he can manage, including a dalliance with his and Patrick's former French teacher Madame Carlton (Bujold), while little-missed high school acquaintance Marty (Barry) gives a numinous but poorly attended piano recital, and lifelong virgin Donna (Wright), a colleague at the gas company of the afore-murdered Duncan, hooks up with Craig ten minutes from Armageddon, in one of a number of similarly artful plot conveniences. The restriction of the dramatic range to a few well-heeled Canadian lives rather limits Last Night's capacity to explore the extent of what human beings value – a side-effect, perhaps, of the screenplay's origins in a project entitled 2000, Seen By ... orchestrated by French film company Haut et Court, and originally intended to depict the implications of the approach of the millennium from the perspectives of ten different screenwriters from ten different countries. Last Night does, however, occur on an agreeably human scale – any viewer of, for instance, Armageddon (1998), might be forgiven for finding its "size of Texas" Asteroid more interesting than the antics of its cardboard cut-out cast – and manages to convey several scenes of intimacy and insight. [MD]


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