The Canadian film “Last Night” asks the question, “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end at midnight tonight?”
We’ve all wondered about that before, at least casually, especially when we’ve seen films like “Independence Day” and “Armageddon,” in which the world’s end seems imminent. But rarely has a movie provoked such deep thought as “Last Night” does, using extraordinary realism and sensitivity to make its audience REALLY consider the issue. Writing this, a week after seeing the movie, I’m still thinking about it. What WOULD I do? That kind of power to stay in your consciousness for so long is unusual in a film.
The movie follows several different people, whose lives intersect in various ways, during the last six hours of existence. Fortunately, we are never told why the world will end, or how the scientists know (it was announced two months earlier, apparently), or why the sun never setting is part of it; these questions would have turned it into a sci-fi film, which it doesn’t need to be. (Avoiding these issues also eliminates embarrassing questions like, “Midnight in which time zone? Is Toronto the center of the world all of a sudden?”)
Instead, this is a character drama, with the scientific facts intentionally ignored — not as a cop-out, but to keep us focused on the real issues. At the center is Patrick (Don McKellar, also writer and director), a divorced man who plans to spend the evening at home, alone. His parents and siblings don’t understand, but this is a deeply personal thing, he insists.
Meanwhile, Sandra (Sandra Oh) is picking up a few items for her final evening with her husband, Duncan (David Cronenberg). Among those items: guns. They plan to shoot each other at the stroke of midnight, so that Fate or whatever will not have claimed them; they will have claimed themselves.
Unfortunately, Sandra’s car is stolen (a common occurrence on the last day of the world — people who need one just take one, figuring the owners won’t have a chance to press charges, and probably won’t even care). She happens upon Patrick, who reluctantly agrees to help her get across town to her husband.
Providing comic relief is Patrick’s friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), who is doing what many people at least jokingly say they would do on the last night of the world: having sex. In fact, he’s been working hard for two months to make sure that he dies having fulfilled every sexual possibility that has ever occurred to him. This includes finally making it with an old high school French teacher he always had a crush on (Genevieve Bujold), and even attempting a homosexual encounter with Patrick, who politely declines in a very amusing, uncomfortable scene.
“Last Night” shows us many of the characters’ feelings, but only hints at others. One man is finally performing a piano recital, which a handful of people attend, including the aforementioned French teacher. We contemplate what would compell someone to spend their last living hour at an amateur piano concert, but we aren’t offered any insight into why this particular character did it. Closeups of her face as she watches suggest there’s something, but we don’t know what it is.
And I don’t know that this is even a downfall. There is a great deal of melancholy here, much aching and yearning. Why go to a piano concert? Well, why do anything? Why bother falling in love? Why bother experiencing pleasure? It’s all over soon anyway, and you won’t even be able to brag the next day about how much fun you had.
“Last Night” is an affecting film, arousing emotion and pity in a gentle, moving way.
B+ (; )