Given the current times, the apocalyptic 4:44 Last Day on Earth—the premise of which is summed up by the title—couldn’t be timelier. We live in a post-9/11 society bent toward fear and anxiety, a society uncertain about the future—the War on Terror, the nuclear program of Iran, global warming, the 2012 phenomenon. Unfortunately, this timely—and fascinating—premise turns out be the only thing Abel Ferrara’s latest has going for it. The film, aimless and superficial, proves to be nothing more than an excuse for Ferrara to shove his fear-mongering agenda down our throats while getting distracted by sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll amid the lecture.
As didactic as it may be, though, Ferrara’s vision doesn’t appear focused or coherent enough to really even be called a lecture—much less a story. Centered on a former heroin addict named Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and his young redheaded girlfriend, Skye (Shanyn Leigh, Ferrara’s real-life girlfriend), the plot follows no linear structure and moves in no apparent direction, except for the obvious—the looming end of the world. At the couple’s apartment, a television runs with popular figures—even Al Gore himself—sermonizing about the consequences of global warming. Cisco and Skye pleasure themselves in long sexual acts—graphic scenes that go on and on. Cisco talks to friends and family on Skype and dances to loud music. Skye drips buckets of paint on a large canvas while changing outfits every chance she gets—either to make the best of her last day on earth or for Ferrara to show off her naked breasts. Cisco yells at his neighbors, argues with his ex-wife, argues with Skye, visits his friends down the street—all before the threat of a relapse. Filled with contrived drama, these arbitrary occurrences culminate with an uninspired apocalyptic vacuum void of any visual vividness or scope—just quick close-ups and zoom-outs that set a hallucinatory tone.
Ferrara gets a little help from Dafoe in the lead role. As always, the veteran actor brings everything he can to the part and, at the very least, makes us believe he’s a real human being, imbuing the film with a sense of humanity. But, alas, there’s only so much depth he can bring to such a shallow character. Not even that much can be said for Leigh and her performance as Skye. While, like Defoe, she doesn’t get much to work with, Leigh fails to elevate her shallow character by even the slightest degree. By the end of the film, we still don’t know who Skye is and how she really feels about life coming to an end.
Of course, by the end of the film, we still don’t know how Ferrara feels about it, either. Through the interviews and addresses on the television—one in which a program host says, “Al Gore was right”—and a dream sequence where Cisco literally cuts down a tree, we know why he thinks it might end and what we can do to stop it, but Ferrara never goes beyond his environmentalist agenda. He never delves into the heart of human experience to explore the spiritual and ideological implications of an apocalypse. Ferrara only states the obvious—and with all his distractions and detours, he barely manages to do that.
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writer: Abel Ferrara
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Shanyn Leigh, Paul Hipp, Natasha Lyonne, Triana Jackson, Dierdra McDowell
Release Date: Mar. 23, 2012