Thursday, October 18, 2012

4:44 Last Day on Earth: Why even bother, you ask?

Abel Ferrara's contribution to the "world is ending, smoke 'em if you got 'em" genre might be one of my favorites. Though I'm not usually drawn to Ferrara's pulpy blend of expressionism and grit, I think grit and pulp and big emotional displays might be just about right for a movie about the apocalypse. Though protagonist Cisco (Willem DeFoe--an actor made for Ferrara) raging at the dying of the light and the oft-articulated, though marginalized on television screens throughout the apartment Cisco shares with his younger girlfriend Skye, environmental account of why the world would be ending at 4:44 a.m. the next day (global warming and ozone depletion--Al Gore is featured) was less compelling than the film's illustration of and celebration in the messiness of life.

The remarkable thing about 4:44 is that, despite some sirens and suicides, most of the characters in the film spend their final hours doing pretty much exactly what they would do on any other day, for good or ill. They order Chinese food, have dinner with friends, fight with their ex-wives, fight with their current girlfriends, and make art that no one will ever see. They also say goodbye, of course, but what I liked was the idea that knowing humanity's destruction is imminent will only intensify our humanness--its beauty and its flaws. There are no platitudes spoken between the characters. Their awareness of the fragility of life makes them more authentic with each other--in their love and their disappointment--which corresponds thematically with the Buddhist teachings that appear in counterpoint to the broadcasts about the nature of the world's end, and the way it could have been prevented. Buddhism also teaches that humans hold responsibility for their suffering, but also their ability to connect.

The first words spoken by Skye in the film, in response to Cisco shaving on his last morning on Earth, are "Why even bother?" His response, "for you," pretty much sums up what the film tells us matters about life no matter what the expiration date happens to be. Because honestly, we're all teetering on the edge of a personal apocalypse (which translates to revelation--something that I always find comforting). Life could end for anyone or everyone at 4:44, or next week, or with the next breath we take. So why paint? Why write? Why create? Why bother?  For each other.

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