Despite the Oscar-nominated actors and performances, despite the moving themes of loyalty and love, the drawing of strength from a cause or from your heart, despite all this tasteful Quality, The Last Station was a bit meh for me. The things I really loved best were Helen Mirren and the props. Sofya Andreyevna Tolstaya (Mirren) lives in 1910, at the precipice of Victorian-like modesty and the stirrings of Free Love. Helen Mirren excels at these sorts of roles; her natural brazen confidence and her innate regality make this one look like child’s play for her. Sofya struggles in her marriage to Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), who is torn between leaving his politically radical and influential works to his family or to the people of Russia. The Last Station plumbs all sorts of interesting inner circles, such as the near-cult of Tolstoy followers swarming in direct contrast to the actual man and his life.
As an allegory — nay, a corollary — to misguided practitioners of organized religion defying the very ideals they push to uphold, the film is vivid and deft. Personifying the misguided practitioners is the nasty and manipulative Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti). The People, and their inevitable fall from the fever of their Tolstoyan idealism, is represented by the charming and earnest James McAvoy. He enters the inner circle of Tolstoy’s house from the fundamentalist commune life of the author’s followers. He is the purest of Tolstoyans, having taking every precept literally and deeply to heart. In the presence of his idol, the realities of life and love confuse him. As a result, McAvoy is imprisoned by the freedoms his new life presents him. He has a wonderful romance with a member of the society, and watching it cautiously unfold is lovely and romantic.
Love is the foundation that the followers are missing, losing that basic message in the words. Love and knowing one’s own mind is a simple principle to explain but harder to enact. To see so many people fall over themselves to the point of actual cruelty to own and control the legacy they have so misinterpreted is sad but fascinatingly vivid. Plummer, as Tolstoy, does a warm and believable job but he gives nothing we haven’t seen before. Mirren and McAvoy had more interesting things to do with their characters than Plummer or Giamatti.
Once I left the theatre, however, I found myself unable to hold on to those deeper truths, instead just crushing on Mirren and fervently admiring the production design. The props in this film are astounding — when I notice impressive props and am drawn away by the story by them, it is sometimes not the story’s fault. Andreas Olshausen has found beautiful and pristine Russian typewriters from the Fin de SiÃ©cle, amazing cameras and lamps. 1910 brought such an explosion of modern technology, and in those days Russia could still keep up. I ruefully considered that some government office probably still uses that typewriter every day.
The Last Station is indeed well done, very moving, and informative, but it left me a little cold at the end. Perhaps I just felt frustrated at how little the world changes even when people with good ideas come along.
MPAA Rating R-a scene of sexuality/nudity
Release date 1/15/10
Time in minutes 112
Director Michael Hoffman
Studio Sony Pictures Classics