In the late '90s, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Millennial year and the belief that the world may end. Theories ranged from Martian attacks and asteroid collisions to the ever-popular thought that computers would revolt and conquer over humanity. It was also around this time that several films were made to take advantage of the hype and hopefully cash-in on people's paranoia.
In 1998, Don McKellar made his directorial debut with the Canadian apocalyptic indie, Last Night. Set on an unspecified date with all of humanity aware of the impending apocalypse, at the stroke of midnight no less, it follows a sampling of characters that cross paths during the course of arranging how they will spend their final hours on Earth. The film commences at 6:00pm onwards with an omnipresent sun—a subtle nod to the apparent demise the world is facing—however, McKellar doesn't dwell on the actual circumstances surrounding the end of the world. We learn that the characters have known of their impending doom for quite some time, have accepted their fate, and are now going through the motions of acting out their last moments.
Last Night opens with a compelling scene where the young Sandra (Sandra Oh) parks her car on a desolate street and enters an abandoned supermarket, looking for food and wine for her last meal. All Meanwhile, a group of people happen upon her car and begin to vandalize and flip it on to its roof. By the time she exits the supermarket, her car has been relocated further up the road, leaning against a telephone pole. McKellar eloquently portrays the two reigning mentalities of apocalyptic doom: those that want to go out with dignity and those who have foregone civility and are going out with a bang.
Focusing on the former of the two mentalities, we meet our main protagonist, Patrick (Don McKeller), a cynical man mourning something from his past. He attends a mock-Christmas at his parent's house where the family passes around gifts from their childhood, hurrying through the family dinner in order to leave and be on his own for his final moments. Alas, his desire to be alone is dashed when he meets Sandra and lets her use his telephone to call her husband.
We are also introduced to Patrick's friend, Craig (Callum Keith Rennie), who has decided to use his last moments to act out his sexual fantasies, while Patrick's sister Jennifer (Sarah Polley) attempts to make her way into the heart of the city to attend a rally. A woman credited as "The Runner" (Jackie Burroughs) jogs around the city, periodically yelling out how much time is left, while a radio DJ is heard throughout the film counting down the top 500 tracks of all time.
What sets McKellar's film apart from others in the apocalyptic genre is its focus on characters rather than dwelling upon the how or the why, instead exploring questions of humanity. While similar "end of the world" films tend to dwell upon savagery and lawlessness from a lack of consequences, McKellar focuses upon the good in people and puts forth the idea that perhaps we won't all resort to raping and pillaging, should the world come to an end with a bang (not with a whimper).
While quirky and occasionally humourous, Last Night is essentially a thematic exploration of the notion of it never being too late, which is driven home by the film's tagline of "It's not the end of the world… there's still six hours left."
Last Night screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Countdown to Armageddon screening series at 6:30pm on Friday, December 21st, 2012. (Alliance)