Following a visit to the Chiller Theater Convention in nearby Parsippany yesterday, I was in the mood for something dark to slide into the dvd player. Perhaps something creepy. Perhaps some mayhem. Ultimately, I settled on an end-of-the-world movie appropriately titled Last Night.
Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic settings have been frequent in film (as in literature) almost from the beginning. The tone varies a lot. The ultimate message is sometimes hopeful (e.g. Things to Come, though its presage of the Blitz is almost eerie), sometimes hopeless (On the Beach), and sometimes a bit of both (World without End). Sometimes the setting is just a convenient one for adventure with no other tone or commentary intended (The Road Warrior). Last Night (1998), a low budget but well-written movie, is something else altogether. The cast includes Sandra Oh, David Cronenberg, and Sarah Polley.
It is 6 PM in Toronto. It is precisely six hours before the end of the world. The reason for the end is never specified. There are clues: the sky never turns dark during those final six hours and we get a glimpse of what appears to be (but can’t be) the sun. So, my guess is that a vagrant neutron star wandered into the solar system on a collision course with earth. It doesn’t really matter though. The mechanism of the end isn’t the point. What matters is that everyone in the world knows about the end. They’ve known about it for months. There is nothing anyone can do to prevent it, and this is the last night.
Most people in the movie act much the same as they always did, only more intensely. Some try to ignore reality, some seek out their families (which continue to display the usual rivalries and dysfunctions), some seek solitude, some turn to religion, some party, and some lose themselves in work. Yes, some engage in pillage, violence, and rapine, though not very many considering that there can be no legal consequences. One character tries to fulfill every one of his sexual fantasies before the end. One woman runs nonstop around Toronto the whole six hours. A fellow at the gas company makes thank-you calls to customers for their patronage. One couple plans to commit mutual suicide just before midnight so that they go out on their own terms rather than by an accident of nature.
The varied reactions are strange at first glance but they make a kind of sense. After all, in actual life we all really do face last night even if we don’t know precisely which one it is. An expectation of six more hours, six years, or six decades is all much the same in the scheme of things. We respond by behaving in parallel ways to the characters in the movie.
The script is funny in its own way. One woman is irked by another’s comment, “It’s is hard on the children.” She answers, “I don't give a damn. People are always saying 'The children. Pity the children'. I'm tired of the children. They haven't lived, given birth, watch their friends die. I have invested 80 years in this life. The children don't know what they're missing.” This sentiment is not commonly voiced, but it may not be so very rare among 80-year-olds.
There is no happy ending, unless you count the obsessive runner who, as the world glares bright white, gleefully jumps and shouts, “It’s over! It’s over!” Yet, oddly, this is not a sad film. It may not be for everyone, but I recommend it.
My own post-apocalyptic novel (yes, I tried a hand at it) is Slog