Should I Watch..? 'Last Night' (1998)
What's the big deal?
Last Night is a Canadian comedy-drama film released in 1998 and written and directed by Don McKellar in his directorial debut. Filmed in Toronto, the film concerns the intertwining fate of several characters as the literal end of the world is due in six hours time. Made on a modest budget of just $1.6 million, the film received a positive reception from critics and audiences alike despite box office receipts proving disappointing. It was voted the ninth greatest Canadian film in history by readers of Playback magazine and won several awards at both the Cannes Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. The film stars McKellar, Sandra Oh, Calum Keith Rennie, fellow director David Cronerberg and Geneviève Bujold.
What's it about?
It is the last day on Earth - at precisely midnight, the world will end through some unmentioned event that has been predicted for some time. Despite midnight fast approaching, the sun glows ever-brighter in the sky. There is nothing that anyone can do and with six hours left until the end of the world, people are preparing themselves for oblivion. Some are gathering their families around them, others are holding a wild party in the town square while others are indulging in a rampage of violence and lawlessness.
Recently widowed Patrick wants to spend his last few hours alone, surrounded by mementos of his late wife. But his plans for a quiet evening are disrupted by a distressed Sandra who is unable to reach her husband across town in order to fulfil a suicide pledge they made with each other. Patrick and Sandra's only hope is his friend Craig who has a car but is in the middle of an almost non-stop sex marathon. With society falling apart at the seems, can Patrick get Sandra to her husband in time?
What's to like?
We've seen plenty of films looking at the end of the world from the nightmarish nuclear vision of Terminator 2: Judgment Day to the utter CG-favoured lunacy of 2012 but quite like this. Instead of defiant resistance and heroes determined to either save humanity or prevent such a disaster, Last Night has already tried that and seen it fail - this is the literal end of all things. As such, everyone's resigned to their fate and settle down as best they can. This is actually more startling than it sounds, knowing that we are going to witness the deaths of everyone in this movie and a happy ending is not guaranteed. Anyone expecting Bruce Willis to turn up and save the day must understand that this is not the film for you.
The film's bleak atmosphere is enriched with gallows' humour throughout, however, and the cast deliver suitable performances. The fact that most of them are unknown to wider audiences help sustain the awful believability of the picture, helmed by McKellar himself as a man whose plans for a quiet death are interrupted. My favourite was Rennie as the sex-obsessed Craig, slowly ticking off every item on his sexual wish-list and between him and McKellar, share some wickedly black dialogue. Last Night forces you to evaluate what's really important to you when facing the end, asking uncomfortable questions we'd rather not ask ourselves. But it's far more intelligent and plausible than any other film concerning the end of all things and is more absorbing because of it, even if I'd hesitate to call it entertaining.
- Sandra Oh's character was written and named specifically with her in mind.
- McKellar was asked to contribute a movie about the then-forthcoming Millennium celebrations. Instead of producing a film that he felt would age quickly, McKellar wrote this film instead about the end of the world - not the end of the Millennium.
- McKellar's long-time partner - Tracy Wright - appears in the movie as Donna, a timid and repressed secretary who suddenly throws caution to the wind. They eventually married in 2010, just six months before she died of cancer at the age of 50.
What's not to like?
The film is deeply uncomfortable and unsettling to watch, make no mistake. It is impossible to separate these characters from the fate that awaits them and knowing this, you develop a feeling of guilt that when the film's climax does come that you survive intact. Every character is framed against this forthcoming mass extinction event from the principal roles to the DJ heard over the radio, indulging anyone still listening with his personal Top 500 records of all time ("Don't bother calling in - it's my choice!").
Anyone calling this relative calm in the face of Armageddon unrealistic is completely missing the point. Do people really think that by launching Ben Affleck into space or putting Will Smith into a fighter jet that the world can be saved? I suggest that Last Night is the most realistic film dealing with our extinction out there and while such a claim might sound ridiculous, consider that the end might not come from anything we could fight or blow up or do anything about. Far better to save your energies and go out in style than fighting an enemy you've no hope in overcoming. Sorry for getting heavy with you there but that's the effect this movie has on you.
Should I watch this?
Last Night is a well-made and thought-out drama dealing with characters coping with unimaginable situations. Just because the film covers the last six hours on Earth doesn't mean that you should write the film off - it feels like a eulogy to society and decent people, to dignity in the face of chaos. It's also bitterly funny at times but you'd be hard-pressed to remember that when the end comes. If you're on antidepressants then simply don't even think about watching this.
Great For: independent film makers, screenwriters
Not So Great For: casual cinema goers, depressives, action fans, optimists
What else should I watch?
After all that, I imagine that a more light-hearted outlook on Armageddon is what you're after. In which case, there's only one place to start - The World's End reunites the team behind zombie-comedy Shaun Of The Dead to deal with a group of friends attempting a pub crawl during an alien invasion. Otherwise, you're stuck with a long list of films featuring big stars battling special effects - Tom Cruise in the more recent and soulless version of War Of The Worlds, Adam Sandler in the moronic Pixels, Nicholas Cage is Left Behind after the Rapture, Aaron Eckhart vs massive alien ships in Battle: Los Angeles...
Of course, these and many other films suggest that life goes on after the Apocalypse which, in itself, is a completely Hollywood idea. Ignoring the Mad Max franchise, there really is only one other film I can think of that deals with such a scenario in as intelligent a way as this film does - and is also not exactly what you'd call entertainment. The Road sees Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee wonder the wastelands of North America in a Walking Dead-style quest for survival. Both are excellent and the film's atmosphere offers the tiniest glimmer of hope in the face of global disaster. But like this movie, you walk away afterwards with something like survivor's guilt.
Callum Keith Rennie
Release Date (UK)
2nd July, 1999 (limited)
Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
© 2015 Benjamin Cox