Last Night (1998)
Written & Directed by Don McKellar
What would you do if you knew it was the final day of the Earth’s existence? Much like the Last Man on Earth trope, this is another one that comes up often when you explore Apocalyptic fiction. Here we have Canadian filmmaker Don McKellar’s distinct take on the end of the world, which balances both the darker aspects of humanity that would crop up and the way other people would cling to the norms and routines of decorum and civilization even as the end approached. It’s very different from the other films in this series, which is precisely why I wanted to watch it.
Last Night follows various people on the day the world ends. Sandra (Sandra Oh) makes her way to a grocery store to pick up a few things. While she is inside, a small band of rioters flip her car over and slide it a few blocks away. Patrick (Don McKellar) wants to spend the final night alone in his apartment but humors his parents by coming over for a mock Christmas lunch. Despite his mother’s emotional protests, Patrick wraps up the meal and heads back to his evening of solitude. This is halted when he finds the distraught Sandra crying on the steps in front of his apartment, a complete stranger to him.
Patrick lets her in to use the phone and learns she has a suicide pact with her husband, that at the stroke of midnight, they will shoot each other in the head. This is why she is so desperate to get home. Patrick tries to help her find a car, and eventually, they part ways. All the while, we pop in on the last two employees of the gas company as they wrap up their work and one of Patrick’s friends who is attempting to clear out his sex bucket list before the planet is destroyed.
What I love most about Last Night is the bittersweet tone of the film. There are those people who use the apocalypse as an opportunity to behave without regard to the law, and they do terrible things. One character is murdered just inside the door of his own home by a rioting stranger. However, we have other people who sit quietly and allow the finality of things to wash over them. There’s talk of religious groups rowing boats out to the middle of the lake and singing at midnight. We see young people gathering in the city center, partying like it’s the New Year.
As a teenager during the lead up to the new millennium, there was this eerie, apocalyptic sense depending on who you spoke to about the event. Y2K was something that took over the minds of many paranoiacs who filled plastic garbage cans with dry goods like beans and rice. I think McKellar captures how many people, like myself, would accept the end and choose to live things out as regular and straightforward as possible. I don’t see any personal benefit to turning into a murderous person in the final days because I don’t want to hurt anyone. I’d probably end up much like the older parents in the film, just sitting around and letting the day pass by.
McKellar gives us a quite beautiful ending that manages to not cop out on its end of the world promise but suddenly infuses the story with both a personal touch of intimacy and a more substantial cosmic nod to the necessity of human connection. The final act of humanity that we see on screen is an embrace and kiss, implying that when all is broken down, and we are left with the fundamental components of who we are, we will find love. It’s a hopeful vision of the end. I worry the darker side of humanity is more likely to come out in such a circumstance, but if I had to live in one of these apocalypses, I would, without a doubt, choose Don McKellar’s.