Mankind works its way toward extinction in Abel Ferrara's "4:44 Last Day on Earth". The film made it onto several Cahiers Du Cinema "best film" lists, but is otherwise widely hated.
"Earth" opens in a spacious New York apartment, home to Ciso (Willem Dafoe) and Skye (Shanyn Leigh), a couple of bohemian artists. As the world is going to end at 4:44am the following morning, our duo are in a state of anxiety. He mumbles to himself, she paints a gloomy Ouroboros snake on their living room floor, a dark, gaping maw at its serpentine centre.
The film's first act watches as our couple squabble, make love and nervously await termination. Then they have more sex. Ferrara films these "romantic" sequences with raw closeups, lingering on flesh and open pores; bodies touch bodies, perhaps for the very last time.
Counterpointing this "literal" connection is a colder form of digital connection. Loved ones "meet" on web-cams, talk on computer screens, including a Vietnamese delivery boy, who borrows a laptop to hastily chat with his family. Then it's back to work. Even on the eve of Armageddon, the poor seem busy. Cisco ashamedly gives the kid wads of now-useless cash.
Ferrara tries to get political. Like Godard on a bad day, he cuts to TV screens and desktops, most of which show trees falling, fires burning or feature newscasters ruminating about ozone depletion. Al Gore, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela....they all make an appearance, public figureheads who chastise man and herald extinction. "Where are the experts?" Ciso fumes, beside the fake trees stencilled on his rooftop. "How's that 2 and a half percent feel now?! We're all gonna die! We're already dead!"
Ferrara's "Body Snatchers" touched upon, vaguely, the linkages between capitalism, militarism and pollution. His later films would develop these themes further. "4:44 Last Day on Earth", however, is content to wallow in futility. The time's up. You reap what you sow. Karma has come for mankind, tenfold. A Buddhist monk offers a new course ("Plant a different image in your mind and you can stop death!") as does Cisco ("Take what you need, think of the others!"), but it's too late now. The tipping point has been reached.
Ferrara's climactic annihilation is due to both the "ozone layer being destroyed" and some sort of "solar surge", but the film is uninterested in such details. Ferrara's climactic event is symbolic, not literal. In the real world, there is itself no single extinction day. As economist Bernard Manning says, "every day is another Armageddon". 100 species go extinct daily, biodiversity decreases and the poor die. Capitalism strangles slowly, breaks down, then starts again. Armageddon is continuous, uninterrupted, and well hidden.
In one scene, Cisco watches as the Dalai Lama discusses greed and money. "Money is not the ultimate evil," His Holiness says (surprising for a staunch Marxist like himself), but greed. This is a common sentiment, but it can also be argued that contemporary money is "literally evil", as many (the dictionary definition of "evil" is: "ruinous", "harmful" and "causing of future misfortune") radical economists and even scientists (Soddy, Einstein, Edison) show: as all money is issued as debt at interest, it can only exponentially increase debts, it can only increase poverty/inequality, and contemporary money by its very design exists to redistribute energy from the bottom of society to the top regardless of individual morality, individual behaviour or its "type" of usage. Money is not an innocuous thing (or as Friedmanites say, "superneutral"). It is an engine which exerts its own forces. Recent computer simulations (Peter Victor et al), or even mathematical representations (Adrian Dragulescu, Victor Yakovenko) are themselves able to map money. They show that money, like energy, heeds the laws of conservation. Fast forward these simulations, and only two outcomes are reached: our economic system has to either plunge deeper into debt, or its source (usually central banks) ends up accumulating all money. Ceaseless consumption, production, death and expansion forestall these outcomes. Such things have led to even NASA jumping on-board the doom-and-gloom bandwagon. In 2014, Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Centere, led by mathematician Safa Motesharrei, predicted "irreversible collapse" due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution. Their report was ignored.
"Earth" ends with snippets from "The Hairy Ape", an expressionist play (which starred Dafoe) about a brutish labourer continually bamboozled by the rich. Ferrara's Cisco is in a way a modern update of "Ape's" lead, living a self-obsessed (he's shaving hours before the world dies?), passive existence. If the film poses the question "What do you do when you know the world is going to end?", Cisco's answer is "wait in isolated privilege". His daughter plays video games as 4 o clock nears.
"Earth's" last act contains a subplot in which Cisco confronts his past drug addictions. Ferrara was himself an addict, and casts his own real life partner (Leigh) as Cisco's mate, lending the film an autobiographical quality, Ferrara contemplating his own mortality, and perhaps also New York's.
Ferrara's New York is itself strangely quiet, recalling her tranquil 2003 blackouts. The city's inhabitants are alone, isolated, reduced to electronic ghosts talking on screen, and seem to accept death with calm and serenity. Last words: "All we have is each other, our time has come. We are all angels now."
7.9/10 – Worth two viewings.