Last Night by guest blogger David Demchuk
Last Night takes all the elements of the classic American end-of-the-world disaster movie—the all-star cast, the planet in peril, cities in chaos, gunshots, rioting and thuggery, fateful eleventh-hour chance encounters, families pulling together and tearing apart—and turns them upside down and inside out. No astronauts shooting into space to blow up errant meteors are to be found here, no uploading of Windows viruses to short-circuit alien computers, no pockets of humanity huddling together underground to start civilization anew. Don McKellar’s remarkable film counts down the final hours, the final minutes, the final seconds…and then the world really and truly ends. Everybody dies. Does that count as a spoiler?
It shouldn’t. Last Night may have its unblinking eye clearly and resolutely trained on that ultimate moment, but its heart is with the ensemble of doomed Torontonians that populate the film and their efforts to recapture and redefine some shred of intimacy in their lives before they face the blinding flash of light that consumes them all. McKellar takes the lead as a young widower who would rather die alone than with his tense WASPy family and their faux-Christmas celebration. Callum Keith Rennie charms as a youthful roué who spends his last hours enacting the wish list of sexual desires that he has inscribed on his kitchen walls. The late, lamented Tracy Wright is gravely touching as a loyal office assistant infatuated with her oblivious boss David Cronenberg. Geneviève Bujold beguiles as a French teacher whose surprising encounter with one of her grown students brings back the glow of her youth. And Sandra Oh devastates as a woman struggling to make her way across the city to reunite with her husband so that they can fulfill their suicide pact. All the while, exuberant harbinger Jackie Burroughs, whom we also lost this year, runs through the city shouting out how much time is left to all who care to listen.
This description makes Last Night sound dire but, really, it’s not. Alternately disquieting, wryly funny and unexpectedly moving, the film successfully sidesteps movie making clichés from both sides of the border—not only the bombastic patriotism, gluey sentimentality and eye-watering special effects of its apocalyptic American correlaries, but also the tidiness, tastefulness and suffocating emotional reticence of so many of its Canadian peers. With a soundtrack that sports Edward Bear, Parliament and the DeFranco Family and, instead of Leonard Cohen’s ubiquitous Hallelujah, the best use ever of Pete Seeger’s Guantanamera. The cast is rounded out with supporting performances by Sarah Polley and Arsinée Khanjian and blink-and-you’ll-miss-em cameos by Bruce McDonald, Kirsten Johnson, Michael McMurtry, Darren O’Donnell, Bob Martin and Tom McCamus. It also has vintage cars, bad red wine, a nasty gunshot wound and a description of the internet that holds up even today.
David Demchuk writes for film, television, radio, stage, print and digital media. He is one of the organizers of Don’t Wear Black, a project using arts and culture to examine police actions during Toronto’s G20 summit, slated for April 2011.