4:44 Last Day on Earth (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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4:44 Last Day on Earth (2012)

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Let us now take a step back and listen to the man who gave us one of the most visceral redemption plots of the ‘90s now predict the end of the world.  I didn’t start 4:44 Last Day on Earth with the hopes of seeing something as calm and thoughtful as this.  When you’ve got a man who made his mark on films of a decade with something that defines grit, and started off his career with an out of control serial murderer whose weapon of choice is a drill, it tends to set an expectation.

Did my expectation involve the many repeating shots of Al Gore, talking head?  Not exactly.  There’s no mistaking this as one of the many doom-laden films that were sprouting up all over the place in 2011.  The metaphor has just been replaced with something as subtle as Lars Von Trier smashing our planet into another, but loaded with a lot less meaning for the survivors.  For those of you who are not already hip to his message, let’s make one clear going in, Al Gore is 100% correct and will cause the world to end in a bright flash and a montage with as many cultures as possible.

I was wondering about all those cultures.  The movie never presented the central couple, Cisco (an actor played by Willem Dafoe) and Skye (a painter by Shanyn Leigh), as people who got out of the house very much except to work.  They are in one of those tech bubbles you see now and again, the ones that so thoroughly saturate people in communication and electronics that they don’t have to experience the world when it can be beamed to them.   The entire world is right there and you don’t have to leave the apartment to see it.  They're never far from an expensive toy, and those bleatings now form the soundtrack to their every waking moment.This plays right into one of those regrets a lot of people have before they die.  Why didn’t I get out and see the world more?  In the case of Cisco and Skye, they seem so desperately out of touch with anyone who didn’t spend their life in a similar disconnected phase (be it through drugs, psychosis, or a simple language barrier) that this didn’t really seem to shock them much.  But, 4:44 observes this is true of everyone, even those who live in such a privileged circle.

A strong newscaster approaches the end of the world doing what he’s always done, same with a delivery boy who brings them some takeout, or the blues musicians.  Our feelings won’t change in the face of Armageddon.  Cisco can’t connect with his daughter from another life without angering his former lover; Skye can’t talk to her own mother without reverting even further into whatever disease wracks her brain.  Both Dafoe and Leigh make the most of it, creating two people who only seemed to connect out of a childlike sense of creation, and were able to survive because they separated themselves from everyone else.Ferrara creates his own bubble, and reaffirms that he is one of the most evocative directors still working.  His city has stories within stories just out of earshot, glimpsed for a moment in kindness (a stranger puts a jacket on a man) or despair (a suicide that starts and finishes as abruptly as Cisco’s grief).  The city is where Ferrara has his strength, not the constant media presence in the home, and especially not the multiple shots of the same feel good guru dispensing penny wisdom while Al Gore talks frankly in the corner.  The exterior is Ferrara’s playground, and the interior is just a series of shallow diversions.

Still, that could be taken as part of the point.  But Ferrara’s script doesn’t do anything to help out the bluntness of why Cisco and Skye are facing death at 4:44.  In one of many soliloquies, Cisco talks about how “Al Gore was right” and “We should have seen this coming.”  Left-leaning as I am, these moments were almost embarrassing, but Dafoe carries them off with strength and honesty.  Ferrara does leave a few moments unsaid, Skye’s violent reaction to Cisco’s ex being an interesting point quickly dropped, and shows how he could flesh out the details of the background moreso than why they’re on the eve of destruction.

The shots give them their dignity, which is rare for disaster films.  Ferrara allows them to carve out a space for their own, ignorant though they may be of others, morphing their quiet womb of an apartment into an unholy terror as the night progresses.  The warmth and color of the day constricts around them at night, and Skye’s initially trite painting is their protection and doom.  The serpent is about to eat, Jupiter is set to make things right again by pressing reset, and all we can do is lie.

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4:44 Last Day on Earth (2012)

Written and directed by Abel Ferrara.
Starring Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (3) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Great review here. I never got around to reviewing this flick, but I liked it a lot. I love the bleak picture Ferrara paints. Really wish this found a wider audience, though.

    • Thank you for the comment Alex! I was surprised how much I liked the film, especially after the opening “Sex ‘n Gore” montage. In regards to its I’m thinking after Take Shelter, Melancholia, and Another Earth, people were probably too tired for another apocalypse-esque film. 4:44 fits pretty well with all of those.

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