It’s the hope that kills you.
– Mae Green, Ted Lasso
In her debut feature film, writer/director Marleen Gorris confronted gender expectations and equity with psychological crime thriller A Question of Silence (1982), only to follow it up with a sex positive murder thriller Broken Mirrors (1984). Both of these films were re-released by boutique distributor Cult Epics, providing both a restored visual/audio element and bonus features. Now, with The Last Island (1990), available in a 2K HD restored transfer from the only remaining English-language 35 mm print and a collection of bonus features, Cult Epics completes their Gorris Trilogy (available as a set come November 2023). If this is your first foray into Gorris’s work, the mixture of light and dark of the human spirit on display may disquiet, but this is by far her least violent film that’s potentially her most uncomfortable.
A plane crashes on a remote island and, of the entirety it carried, only seven survived. Seven who must devise a way to figure out where they are, whether help can be found, and, if not, how they will save themselves. However, the longer these seven remain on the island, the longer average tensions and disagreements are able to ferment into something more powerful and deadly.
Seeing as this film is around 33 years old, I’m just going to dive into things, so consider this your spoiler-warning.
If you thought the first two Gorris films were searing, they feel a little like warm-ups in comparison. Here, Gorris’s script holds little back in a tale that functions as a bottle version of global issues, as well as an insular story of crash survivors trying to make sense of their new reality. First, credit where credit is due that these folks are smarter than the Triangle of Sadness (2022) characters who didn’t think to explore their space, opting to work together to gather as much information as possible rather than wait for someone to tell them what to do. This is part of the point of Ruben Östlund’s dark satire, of course. For Gorris, having her characters take the initiative is all part of setting into motion the trials to come, as each character (for the most part) begins by understanding that their survival is contingent on everyone taking a specific role. Where things start to degrade is two-fold: Kenneth Colley’s (The Empire Strikes Back) Nick’s faith transforming from something of comfort into a directive that leads to violence and the awareness of only one sexually attractive female (Shelagh McLeod’s Joanna). Now, in different hands, there would be gratuitous violence, sexual exploitation, and more as this shipwreck narrative turns nasty; however, Gorris has proven, through her first two films, a deftness in raising concerns and exploring themes without fetishizing the characters or their actions. As presented, Joanna is uninterested in sex with her fellow survivors, something the men can’t fathom to a degree, leading to greater posturing from the younger straight men and threats of violence from the older. However, McLeod (Lady Oscar) presents Joanna as more than capable of fending off any attacker, even going so far as making it plain to all that she’s going to take a part of anyone who comes after her for herself. It’s a declaration that the straight men in the group take seriously, even seem taken aback by, thereby showcasing the true weakness of men to blame their actions on others, as if they themselves are incapable of control and should therefore be forgiven for any sin.
Similarly, as hope dwindles, the rise of Nick’s faith from personal to theocratic highlights the ways that religion is used to justify personal gains and avoid accountability. The survivors understand that they require the help of the others, especially as the majority bring with them either a background in science (Marc Berman’s (Simone: Woman of the Century) biologist Pierre), firearms (Nick), or organizational structure (Paul Freeman’s (Raiders of the Lost Ark) Sean), enabling them to build a small society that uplifts them all. That is, until religion cuts a large swath between Nick and the rest, thereby starting the deterioration of trust made worse as he’s the island’s sole weapons specialist. An armed religious zealot can cause far more damage than any happy homosexual couple minding their own business, and once the first blood is drawn, there is no coming back.
Before the film begins, a notice pops up from Cult Epics declaring that the film was restored using a heavily injured 35 negative print, so there is going to be some areas in the presentation that are visibly damaged. There are obvious scratches, dirt, cue marks, and other indication of poor storage, but none of these are so bad or frequent as to ruin the engagement with the film or its themes. Instead, when one considers how good the rest of the film looks (the balance of color, the clarity of image) and sounds, whomever did the restoration work for Cult Epics (not included with either the release or press materials) should be commended.
Regarding the bonus features, there’s nothing new added beyond the feature-length commentary track from Film Scholar Peter Verstraten. However, there is a wordless visual behind-the-scenes montage set to hits of the late 1980s (I took a particular shine to the opening number “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood, not just because it’s a solid song, but because it’s appropriate for both a making-of *and* how the characters have to do exactly this to survive). It begins by showing how the plane shown in the film was selected, separated, and carried to the set, as well as showing other aspects of on-set production development, including scenes with the cast during the 17-minute featurette. Additionally, an interview with political columnist Annemarie Grewel, but as there are no English subtitles, it’s difficult for this reviewer to state what exactly is being discussed in the 11-minute segment. There’s also a promotional gallery and trailers for The Last Island and upcoming Cult Epic films. If you’re one of the first 100 pre-orders, you’ll also receive an international poster postcard. Reportedly, if you order any of the three available Gorris films from Cult Epics, each comes with a 20-page booklet, but none of the review copies provided by MVD Entertainment Group have included it, so I cannot speak to it.
One of the questions asked by the characters is whether or not they are the last survivors of Earth. They ponder this because they can play music through a stereo but there’s no radio frequency with a person on the other end. They wonder this because there are no planes spotted in the air who may have sought where the last position of the plane’s signal was caught. They wonder this because the idea that they won’t be rescued is harder to process than believing they are the last humans on the planet. By credits close, this question isn’t answered and it doesn’t need to be. For where Gorris takes us, we may just all be better off as she leaves things: cruelty, vengeance, and dissent things of the past. There’s beauty in the location and quite a bit of horror, but neither overtake the other so much that we, the audience, can’t remain locked in, wondering with a mixture of terror and elation as to whether this motley crew will make it or not. And, by extension, if human kind is worthy to survive. With a narrative such as this, I wouldn’t hope for it.
The Last Island Special Features:
- New 2K HD Transfer (from original 35mm print) & Restoration
- Audio Commentary by Film Scholar Peter Verstraten (1:40:53)
- Behind-the-Scenes of The Last Island (16:52)
- Interview with Politica Columnist Annemarie Grewel (Cinema 3, 1990) (11:38)
- Original Dutch Theatrical Trailer (3:07)
- Promotional Gallery
- Double-sided Sleeve (Blu-ray only)
- Dual-layered Disc
Available on Blu-ray and DVD October 10th, 2023.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.