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'4:44' film billed as wake-up call to humanity

Abel Ferrara made his new film "4:44 Last Day on Earth" to serve as a wake-up call to humanity over impending ecological disasters.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Abel Ferrara made his new film "4:44 Last Day on Earth" to serve as a wake-up call to humanity over impending ecological disasters.

The movie, by the director of 1992's "Bad Lieutenant," focuses largely on one couple — played by Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh — passing their final hours on Earth as they Skype their goodbyes to loved ones from a New York City high-rise.

"The bottom line is this film is about man's destruction of the Earth," Ferrara told reporters Wednesday in Venice, where the film is being shown in hopes of snaring the top Golden Lion prize later this week.

"This isn't about a meteorite, this isn't ... some horror show. This is about humanity not coming to terms with its carbon footprint," the director said. "It's on us. It's our responsibility."

The time in the title is the exact hour before dawn when humanity ceases to exist. The exact calamity which befalls Earth's citizens isn't ever spelled out, although there is an "ozone-hole" theme.

At one point, viewers see, as a backdrop, an image of environmental advocate and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore projected on large screen TV giving an interview.

"We reached out to Al, we reached out to Gore, definitely," Ferrara said.

In the movie, the couple spends some of their last hours passionately embracing, as they alternate Skyping with friends and loved ones. When Leigh's character calls her mother on Skype, the closing of the laptop lid represents a final goodbye.

Everybody knows the final hour is coming, even though some don't believe it. Snippets of routine continue, with some odd context twists, like when Dafoe's character, Cisco, gives several hundred dollars to a Chinese food delivery man, since money now means nothing, and lends his computer so the man can briefly Skype his family in China.

In a rare scene outside the apartment, Cisco, a recovering drug addict, steps out to say goodbye to some friends, and considers taking drugs.

There is "this question, given the end of the world, do you want to go out awake or do you want to go out sedated?" Dafoe told reporters.

"That is what was attractive about this scenario, it deals with very elemental, philosophical questions but played out in a very practical way. So what would you do? You'd say goodbye, you'd try to prepare things, you try to comfort each other and try to get a strategy for saying goodbye," Dafoe said.

For the finale, Ferrara said he opted for a natural phenomenon instead of fancy, computer-created effects, offering his audience an actual aurora borealis captured on film.