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Last Night (1998)

by on 2011/07/30

“Tell me something to make me love you.
Tell me your big tragedy.”

* * * * *

The month’s end rapidly approaching, I came upon an old favourite, Last Night. I’ve seen it a few times already, and my affection for it has never dimmed.

I’d been putting off reviewing it for a couple of reasons. One, I thought the apocalyptic subject matter may be a bit depressing. Two, I was concerned it wouldn’t hold up in a month of exceptional offerings. But as in the world of the movie itself, time was running out, and I couldn’t let this year slip away without giving it its due.

Appropriately enough given its French title, Minuit, I starting watching around midnight in the waning of this July. As the video began, all sense of fatigue left me, and I reached what in retrospect is an obvious conclusion: Last Night is a greatest hits of CanCon (Canadian content).

Writer/director Don McKellar has crafted an inspiring blend of ideas, moods, and characters. A cast of our nation’s ringers spins an utterly compelling web, connecting bad wine, folk music, jogging, natural gas, old cars, and strawberry ice cream.

McKellar (eXistenZ, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould) stars, and is joined by Jackie Burroughs (Road to Avonlea), Genevieve Bujold (Dead Ringers), David Cronenberg (Videodrome), Arsinee Khanjian (Exotica), Sandra Oh (Defendor), Sarah Polley (Away from Her, Splice), Callum Keith Rennie (Hard Core Logo) and, perhaps most poignantly, McKellar’s late wife, Tracy Wright (Trigger).

Appropriately enough, it’s a mosaic of connections. “The end of the world from a Canadian perspective” might rank among the top MacGuffins I’ve ever come across. We don’t know many details for certain, but it gives us a ticking clock. As the story begins, six hours remain until (presumably) the sun destroys the Earth, whether by impact or explosion or another bit of technobabble.

Across North York and parts of Toronto, various characters face their end. Some do the typical “acting out” behaviours: crashing cars, doomsaying, looting stores, and tipping trolleys. However, the players at the heart of this piece are Canadian to the quick. They politely ignore the goings-on and, if they’re not unaware, they’re desperately normal.

Though it all has a twisted New Year’s Eve vibe, there’s no cover of darkness and no snow. The sun is always out, bright, growing, and searing. Maybe no one is able to sleep, and they’re mass delusional. The Wheeler family (including McKellar and Polley) are celebrating a faux Christmas. Duncan (Cronenberg) and Sandra (Oh) are planning an evening of ice cream, wine, and suicide. Craig Zwiller (Rennie) has a date with his high school French teacher (Bujold).

They and many others face their fates in different ways, in arts, parties, prayer, and polyamory. Are they showing their English historical ties with a stiffened upper lip? Do they not know what else to do, as with the consumers in Dawn of the Dead? Are they hoping it’s all a big mistake which, ignored, will go away? Their motivations and actions notwithstanding, what unites them is a quest for connection.

Their ties to Canadiana, on the other hand, are less abstract. Other than the cast and setting, there are references galore. We see familiar buildings, Pizza Pizzas, TTC streetcars. Places name-dropped include Harry Rosen, Mel Lastman Square, Muskoka, and Nathan Phillips Square. Ongoing radio and television broadcasts play Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings with the Guess Who, and Edward Bear . . . “Last Song” of course.

Norwegian band a-ha once sang, “Living’s in the way we die.” I thought of that line from time to time as I relished my viewing of this fairly perfect gem. Like the hybrid of two other recent features — One Week and ExoticaLast Night shows a beguiling cross-section of society struggling with their mortality. McKellar and company succeed in portraying our attempts to find a modest kind of dawn in the dusk.

* * * * *

Rated 14A for adult and disturbing scenes, language, and nudity

96 minutes

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