Willem Dafoe’s Quiet Discipline Shine Through in Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth

How would you spend your last hours on Earth if the world was coming to an end and there was nothing that could be done about it? In Abel Ferrara’s resolute perspective on end times, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Ferrara gives a somber, but engaging  purview into the last hours of a couple’s (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) existence on a doomed planet.

From saying goodbye to friends and family via skype to hanging out with old party pals before the ultimate collapse, Ferrara weaves an introspective tale of self-discovery and closure without weighing down this rather foreboding subject with didactic finger pointing. Early on in the film Ferrara resolutely establishes the Earth’s demise, eliminating the need for special effects or end times blame gaming. By positioning the bygone conclusion that the time is ending without a hero to save the day, Ferrara leaves expands the possibility of the film to look more closely at personal relationships and reflection.

Dispersed throughout the film is footage of conversations with Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Al Gore and several other esteemed cultural icons. “We all know that ultimately we are going to die. Given that fact, I wanted to incorporate into film situations and iconic figures that have something profound to say,” details Ferrara. Also, there are references to Eastern philosophy and Buddhist principles, particularly evidenced Shanyn Leigh’s character painting of the dragon eating its own tail.

Image courtesy of filmfilia.com

Willem Dafoe (Cisco) a writer and former drug addict, who is in a Spring/December relationship with painter Shanyn Leigh (Skye), renders a nuanced performance based more on subtle projection and being in the moment, than heavy dialogue.

Cinematically, 4:44 Last Day on Earth is a beautiful potpourri of images and visual clips. And though the film is slow moving at times, it does evoke an end-time resolve and pulls us toward the commonalities we all share.

—William Gooch

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