The film Last Night tells the story of how several loosely related Canadians spend their last 6 hours before the end of the world. The film is widely accepted as being one of Canada’s better cinematic productions, and features in the Playbacks Magazines top 5 Canadian movies of all time. Director, writer and star Don McKellar received awards and praise for this, his debut film. Last Night is a well structured, thought provoking yet entertaining spectacle. But is it truly, typically Canadian? Or, like so many recent English-Canadian films, does it simply try to reproduce a small slice of Hollywood?
Before this is considered a firm understanding of what makes a Canadian film will be identified. One problem with identifying what makes a typical Canadian film is the diversity that is currently splitting Canadian cinema. G. Prately of www. kinema. com states, ‘it (is) impossible to generalize over Canadian cinema as a whole’ (2002). This is a reference to the present divide between the American influenced Canadian film industry and the more traditional Canadian flick. Such is the state of Canadian cinema that Hollywood influenced films are themselves a genre of ‘Canadian’ film. For example the low brow comedy Porkey’s.
More widely accepted as a typical Canadian film are the darker, murkier movies that are the staple diet of French speaking Canada’s film industry. These are the films Canada is known for, with arty direction and often sinister undertones. These films are made to provoke reflection and take the silver screen in new directions. It was this Canadian film style that hinduonnet. com describes as having ‘there own identity born out of their own geography, climate and social customs’ (2002). Sadly these films have small audiences and do not profit. 3% of films seen by Canadians are made in Canada.
Isidora Rajsic of Capital News Online quotes, ‘Canadian film is virtually invisible’. This lack of commercialism forces Canada to copy Hollywood. But which of these camps does Last Night belong to? Is it a replication of Hollywood’s blockbusters with muscle bound heroes trying to save the earth in the final few nail biting hours? Or is it typical of Canadian cinema featuring dark humour and originality? To determine this, comparisons will be made to Hollywood hits Armageddon and Deep Impact, both also released in 1998, and more importantly also centre on the end of the world.
The basic scenario of Last Night, the earth ending, could at first impression be seen as a bit ambitious for a Canadian film, and fit the mould for a Hollywood production. However similarities in the storyline stop there. Last Night is at heart a people film, a film that deals with emotions and relationships, in this way it is typically Canadian. While the blockbuster equivalents focus on space rockets and specials effect meteors, Last Night forgets computer generation, Joshua Tanzer writes ‘all the action is in the eyes of the actors'(2000).
This lack of special effects allows for the development of the characters, central to any good Canadian film. The special effects that do occur are subtle, for example the burning tower block as a back drop for one of the car journeys. The scale of the film is also characteristically Canadian. The whole film centres on a few loosely connected characters set in one area of Toronto. Compare this with Deep Impact which features clips of scenes in Moscow and shots of the planet as the meteor hits, there is nothing on this scale in Last Night, it is simply people.
There is simply no need for special effects in Last Night as the shock value comes from the head on tackling of stressed emotions and some taboo subjects. The choice of the gas man to ring every customer to thank them would rarely been included in a Blockbuster. More notably the references to homosexuality as an experiment for experiments sake, and the presence of a 40 something virgin are unusual topic matter. Although Canadian cinema isn’t renowned for its sexual content, these subjects are dealt with in true Canadian film style. The use of tongue in cheek humour is apparent, as is sarcasm.
The later is used to good effect at the Christmas dinner scene by the character Patrick. This makes the film more believable and helps avoid most of the ‘good-bye’ American clichi?? s used in the Hollywood equivalents. The ending to the film also strongly contrasts that of most American motion pictures. Bruce Willis manages to save the world in Armageddon, and Morgan Freeman saves most of it in Deep Impact, but this is not the case in Last Night. For whatever reason it is known from the start they will all die and this fact accepted.
This aspect of ‘the unknown’ is rarely seen in American films, where more commonly the story line is explained in full with diagrams. To emphasize a point made earlier, this film is not about the events; it is about emotions and relationships between the characters. The people who play these characters are yet another example of differences between the blockbusters and Last Night. There are no truly famous actors to rival the likes mentioned earlier. This is another characteristic of Canadian cinema which is shared by Last Night.
What adds the extra Canadian spirit to Last Night is the promotion of the fact the film is Canadian. Many Canadian films have been criticised for not making reference to the fact the film is set in Canada. For example the highly successful film My Big Fat Greek Wedding was shot in Toronto and starred a Winnipeg born actress, but is set in Chicago and all Canadian aspects of the film are ignored. This is not the case in Last Night. It is mentioned they are in Toronto and the no attempts are made to hide the fact the star is Canadian and the leading lady has Canadian parents.
Last Night is a great Canadian film. It manages to ignore the influence of its southern neighbours and stay true to the grit of the Canada’s traditional style, while remaining amusing and challenging. Comparisons have shown it couldn’t be more unlike a Hollywood blockbuster. And because of the lack of funds available to the Canadian film industry this is the type of film they should focus on. Attempts should be made to overlook the temptation of Americanising the industry in search of profits and stick to making Canadian films such as this one.