Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s first and last film: future as anticipation of the end.
The Icelandic minimalist composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, author of soundtracks to the movies Arrival, The Theory of Everything, and Mandy, died in 2018. His own cinematic debut, Last and First Men, had been ready for release at the time but was only shown as a multimedia performance. Two years after Jóhannsson’s death, it was completed in accordance with the instructions left by the author and included in the program of the Berlinale.
Formally a sci-fi movie, Jóhannsson’s cinematic experiment approaches the genre from a very Scandinavian perspective. There is no outer space or aliens in it—just the black and white footage of Yugoslavia-based monuments to brutalism in architecture. The only special effect being a color light occasionally blinking to the rhythm of Tilda Swinton’s impassive voice that narrates fragments of Olaf Stapledon’s 1930 futurological novel Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future. The latter describes the entire evolution of humanity and civilizations that are being reborn for millions of years, developing more and more rapidly until their finale—when the solar system vanishes forever. Jóhannsson bizarrely connects fragments of the book, aiming to reduce the grand plot featuring no protagonists to a single human emotion—the sense of finiteness of oneself and the world. Swinton here speaks on behalf of the last people—some ideal super creatures standing on the verge of imminent death. Not intended as an auto-epitaph, of course, the film is obviously perceived that way. Jóhannsson foreseeing his approaching death is not as surprising as the powerful representation with which he reflected it. Last and First Men is a screened foreknowledge of apocalypse inherent in people of all times, but especially tangible in our epoch.
The film will be screened in English with Russian subtitles.
Last and First Men
Dir. Jóhann Jóhannsson
Iceland, 2020. 70 min. 16+