(director/writer: Don McKellar; cinematographer: Doug Koch; editor: Reginald Harkema; cast: Don McKellar (Patrick Wheeler), Sandra Oh (Sandra), Callum Keith Rennie (Craig), Sarah Polley (Jennifer Wheeler), David Cronenberg (Duncan), Tracy Wright (Donna), Genevieve Bujold (Mrs. Carlton), Roberta Maxwell (Patrick’s Mother), Robin Gammel (Patrick’s Father), Trent McMullen (Alex), Karen Glave (Lily), Charmion King (Grandmother), Jessica Booker (Rose); Runtime: 90; Arte / Rhombus Media / The Canadian Broadcasting Corp.; 1998-Canada)

“The film has an impinging discreteness and courtesy about it…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Don McKellar’s witty debut film “Last Night,” is about the end of the world. It tells how a number of people in Toronto intend to spend their last hours from 6 p.m.—till midnight. Those we see either have a farewell dinner, get nostalgic over old home videos, play their most memorable music (Pete Seeger singing “Kum Ba Yah”), pray to God, gather for a street celebration, give a piano concert, get violent, or fulfill their sexual fantasies. McKellar goes for the smaller private moments rather than a grand philosophical argument about the meaning of life or a catastrophic special effect ending. Because of that, everything becomes personal for the small group whose selected stories run parallel to the demise of the world.

Why Doomsday is upon the world is never explained; we only know that there is no doubt that it will take place and all the inhabitants of the city are resigned to that. The focus of the film isn’t on any sort of biblical apocalypse, nor is it on the outside revelers and looters, or on those who gather in the city square to make it a New Year’s Eve celebration; but, it is on those who spend a thoughtful evening preparing for the end.

The Wheeler family uses the catastrophe as an excuse to make this a Christmas celebration believing that even if it isn’t Christmas, that day was the most memorable one for the family and the day of the year they most fondly remember. The dinner is presided over by Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, their guests include: Rose and Mrs. Wheeler’s mother; their only son Patrick (Don McKellar), who is scolded for arriving an hour late; and his sister (Polley), who brings along her husband (Trent). Patrick’s parents are disturbed that he wants to spend the final moments alone and not join them in praying to God.

Patrick’s sister and her husband plan to go to the square and celebrate with the masses gathered at the square.

Sandra Oh’s car was disabled by some rowdies, and she is stuck at a grocery store on the opposite side of town from where she lives. She is anxious to get home to her husband of two months, whom she loves very much and made a suicide pact so that they would die together before midnight by shooting each other simultaneously with her two Berettas; that is, after celebrating life together with a last meal, which she has gathered from the looted grocery store. She is trying to phone him but none of the public phones work, thereby she meets Patrick who is returning to his apartment. She talks him into letting her use his apartment phone. But she can’t reach her husband and the two strangers are brought together by need of companionship, and each is trying to relate to each other in a civil manner. Sandra needs a car to drive crosstown to get home since there is no other transportation available, and Patrick acts as the perfect gentleman trying to get her a car while secretly wishing she would stay with him.

Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) is busy that evening fulfilling his long checklist of sexual accomplishments he wants to complete before dying. We first see him when a prostitute (Glave) comes to his luxury apartment, she is to be the first black woman he made love to. He then has his high school French teacher (Genevieve Bujold), someone he has always been attracted to, come over so he can act on that longtime sexual fantasy.

Patrick, in his failed attempt to get a car for Sandra from the street, remembers that he sold his antique car to his old high school friend Craig and goes over there; but, is surprised to meet his old French teacher in the apartment. His immediate response is to revert back to their relationship of teacher-pupil. Craig is at first unwilling to give up such a valuable possession as his antique car, but gets talked into it.

Craig tells Patrick that on his sexual list of things, is a homosexual fling. But Craig can’t get all his wishes so he will have to settle for his next visitor, the thirtysomething virgin (Tracy). He always wanted a virgin and now will fulfill his last sex wish just before midnight.

In the business section of town, the director of a gas company (Cronenberg) phones all his customers to assure them the gas company will keep doing their job until the end and then goes home to eat some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in his meticulous apartment, only to be disturbed by a violent intruder.

Patrick is prepared to die alone absorbed in thoughts about his dearly departed wife, but is interrupted again by Sandra who couldn’t make it through the hostile crowd and asks if they could spend the final moments together. They briefly tell each other their life story, both of them feeling something strong growing inside them, but she wants to know more about him. She says: “Tell me something to make me love you.”

The film has an impinging discreteness and courtesy about it that elevates the critical situation into a chance for the characters to depart from the world maintaining what they believe in. The sardonic humor and clever performances by Sandra Oh, Don McKellar and Callum Keith Rennie, leaves a lasting impression. Sandra and Don make their experiences seem so vitally human, while Callum remains the eternal materialist. The premise is a question that many people have asked themselves, as I recall parties where the game played was to say how you would like to die; and, the responses were always so varied and revealing.