From 1964’s The Last Man on Earth to 2007’s I Am Legend to the Will Forte sitcom The Last Man on Earth, the extinction of the human race sits heavily on our collective imagination. In writer-director Jonathan Nossiter’s Last Words, we find ourselves transported to 2086. The last person alive narrates his story from 2084-2086, detailing how the human race is going extinct. This sci-fi drama presents an actual apocalypse as both versions of I Am Legend has our protagonist contend with genetically engineered monsters. But here, the only monstrous aspect is that humanity has reached its inevitable end.
Our protagonist, Kal (effectively portrayed with wide-eyed wonder by Kalipha Touray), meets a film archivist, Shakespeare (Nick Nolte), who actively encourages him to learn how to make movies. The last batch of celluloid coupled with the young man’s camera will document the last few people as they die off.
Last Words is divided rather neatly into two halves. In the first part, Kal and Shakespeare get to know each other and head out from the ruins of Paris to witness the red algae-covered Aegean Sea. Here, the duo finds the last remnants of humanity, thus beginning the second half. This small colony is what Kal captures on film.
“…detailing how the human race is going extinct.”
Whereas the first part has a desolate, quiet energy, it becomes more syncopated once Kal arrives at the colony. It divides chronicling the last human beings as they are and Kal screening his experiments. We meet a doctor from Poznyn, Zyberski (Stellan Skarsgard), and a young woman named Ana (Maryam d’Abo). Ana, who is from Naples, has quite the blood-chilling story to tell. These are the people left to witness the end of our species.
The acting throughout Last Words is spare and very naturalistic. Nossiter has chosen to capture people as they psychologically would exist, knowing the planet they inhabit has been poisoned by war and futile efforts to provide green technology. The conversations are limited and stunted, suggesting there’s not a lot to tell anyone once everybody’s dead or dying. However, the use of natural lighting both in Paris, and rural Greece, is quite effective and haunting.
As with all stories that contemplate the end of the human race, there’s a frail and bitter tang to the proceedings here. It’s illuminating to see a theorized end of the line. Seek out Last Words if you have an interest in the fall and decline of humankind. It is one of the more stark and striking versions of the end of the species these eyes have born witness to.
"…stark and striking..."