By Christian DiMartino
Apocalyptic films come in two different forms. Some, or the majority, choose to focus on the disaster that is occurring, or heading towards earth. The others, or few, focus on the people involved. That’s not to say that the previous don’t focus on the people, but when they do, the people come across as more generic and cardboard because the filmmakers are certainly more interested in the destruction, but they need to have people (comic relief, charmers, children, families, etc.) to make it out. With the further, the disaster isn’t quite so front and center.
The best of the previous, in my opinion, is Deep Impact. Not a great film, but it did have a thrilling, frightening disaster, and there was enough human depth for the film to work. The best of the latter, and the best in general, is Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth was released, quietly, around the time of Melancholia. It was a film designed to be divisive, and it has left this reviewer, again, divided.
The critical reception for this film was mixed, but what came as a surprise to me was the film’s 4.6 rating on IMDb. That sort of rating is usually scored for blunders like Striptease or Rhinestone, not the work of someone like Ferrara. Ferrara, whose work is typically pretty interesting (Bad Lieutenant, King of New York), can also make work that is interesting in unsuccessful ways. 4:44 Last Day on Earth is kind of sort of in that category. I liked it more than most, perhaps because of what it is going for. Yet even at 80 minutes, it does tend to meander and it is undeniably pretentious (this coming from someone who, again, is a Lars Von Trier fan) .
The film finds Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh as an actor and a painter living together in their New York department. We are told early on that, through global warming or something, and damage to the Ozone layer, that the world is about to reach its end. What’s interesting about 4:44 Last Day on Earth is the way in which these characters react to their situation. In a normal film, we’d probably see mass hysteria and panic. Here, we sense that these two are a little afraid, but they just choose to look forward, even though they aren’t looking forward far. We see a man jump off of a balcony. The two of them order take out, visit their friends, Skype their loved ones, get high, face the issues that they share with one another, and finally, accept each other one last time because the world is ending, and at least they have each other.
All of these ideas I am perfectly fine with. Honestly, if it were me, I too would be losing my mind. Yet here are two people, along with their friends, who have pretty much accepted their fate, and they know that there is nothing that can be avoided or done. So why not just continue living your life as if it were another day? It’s your last day on earth, why not make it a normal one? The acting here is really good too. Dafoe has been on such a roll these past few years.
Ferrara does do a bit too much showing here, in terms of constant footage being shown displaying what is going on in the rest of the world. The main ideas here are interesting, to me at least, because few apocalyptic films choose to go down this route. I wasn’t bored by 4:44 Last Day on Earth, but it ultimately isn’t much of a movie. It is a pretentious piece of work, and it does tend to meander every so often. Yet there is some respect here for it, simply because not many films tend to approach this subject in such a manner. Melancholia it is not, but aye-okay it is.