‘Last and First Men’ – Film Review – VultureHound

Thoughts on the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s first and last film.

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Jóhann Jóhannsson had a bright future ahead of him. The much-celebrated Icelandic composer of such films as Sicario, Arrival and Mandy, as well as many other original arrangements, sadly passed away at the age of 48 following a drug overdose two years ago. It is a great pity that we’ll never hear a piece of music again from a composer who was capable of stirring an incredible sense of empathy, atmosphere, and mood through their work. But before he left us, he did manage to direct one feature, an art piece as bewildering as any of complex orchestrations. 

Narrated by Tilda Swinton, Last and First Men is a loose adaptation of Olaf Stapledon’s classic science fiction novel, which tells the history of the human race some two billion years into the future. What we’re treated to is an account from one of the last remaining members of mankind on the brink of extinction, beaming their message across time and space in the hope of improving the development of their species. 

Shooting on 16mm black and white film, Jóhannsson uses the weird sculptures and structures that can be found across the former Yugoslavia landscape as the visual element of his exhibition piece. These forms are the only thing we see, with a variety of shots circling in, tracking close and getting lost in the shapes of the buildings and statues. Whether these images are meant to represent the ruins of the Earth left behind by the first race of humans, or if they stand as the architecture of the future species who have resettled on Neptune is unclear, but their other-worldliness is enough to make your imagination run as wild as possible. 

Full review at VultureHound, originally published July 30th 2020.

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