- Shelby Cadwell
ICYMI: The Last Supper (1995)
To call the current state of political discourse volatile is to make an understatement of epic proportions. Between Social Media, infinite political commentators, and a 24/7 news cycle there would be no escaping politics on a good day. But throw in a global pandemic and an upcoming presidential election and avoiding politics would be like avoiding oxygen. And much like COVID-19, it’s seems to be airborne. The days of being able to have a civil discussion about ideals and beliefs are long gone, and the concept of changing someone’s mind is as foreign to me as the appeal of Justice League’s Director Cut.
With this in mind, 1995’s The Last Supper is MORE than timely. It’s a scathingly, dark and witty comedy about the lengths a group of idealistic graduate students are willing to go to make the world, or at least their worldview, better. The film stars Cameron Diaz, Ron Elderd, Annabeth Gish, Jonathan Penner and Courtney B. Vance as said group and features an impressive supporting cast of ideologues whose beliefs are put on trial.
At the outset, we meet our fair-minded group of liberal academics as they prepare for one of their weekly dinners. These dinners are meant to both aerate their developing political work as well as engage willing guests into dialogue that can sometimes become heated arguments. When Elderd’s Pete has car trouble, he invites the seemingly courteous stranger that helped him to their subsequent meal. This stranger is played by Bill Paxton, in full-on Chet from Weird Science-mode.
After a few niceties, Paxton’s Zach reveals himself to be a short-tempered Neo Nazi. And when Zach can’t handle the group’s attempts at education he erupts and goes into actual “attack mode.” In an act of recognizable self-defense, Penner’s Marc stabs and kills Zach. But, instead of calling the cops, the group rationalize that Zach was pure evil and the world is now better off without him. Pete ditches his car and the rest bury Zach in the backyard.
Emboldened by their “getting away with murder,” the group decides that to make actual change in the world it’s not enough to contest and change people’s minds. They decide that the world can just do without some people. What if you met a struggling artist in the 1920’s named Adolf Hitler and simply killed him? Wouldn’t the world be a better place? History?
The plan: every week, invite an individual of questionable beliefs over. Hear their hot takes and involve them in challenging conversation, to see if they are capable of growth. By evening’s end, the group of five votes (no ties possible) on which carafe of wine gets opened next for the guest to sample. Hint: immunity to Iocane powder would be a must.
This unsuspecting group of guests include Charles Durning as a homophobic priest who believes that AIDS is a justifiable punishment for homosexuality, Mark Harmon as a chauvinist and rape apologist and Jason Alexander as a Global Warming denier who when pressed about being anti-environment, proclaims “I am Pro Human Being.” We also get Nora Dunn as the local sheriff who keeps showing up ala Columbo due to the uptick in missing people.
And Ron Perlman chews up the scenery with gusto as the group’s dream nemesis, Norman Aburthnot, a cigar chomping right wing pundit who’s delayed flight provides a chance meeting with one of our intrepid graduate students. The final act of the film finds Norman as the group’s latest guest. Everything comes to a head, with each member either developing vital morality or embracing their homicidal vindictiveness.
The ending may be a bit on the nose, but director Stacy Title deserves a lot of credit for keeping everything moving along briskly and directing with just the balance of sharp wit and infectious debauchery. The Last Supper is all about moral quandaries and ethical what-ifs, as we watch this group enact their plan of “political purification.” The film is sly, funny, and exceedingly dark. But like the best of black comedies, there’s just enough sinister joy to carry one over.
Despite my own strong and devout liberal beliefs, I sincerely doubt I would ever go as far any of the characters in The Last Supper. First, lowering yourself to such bloodthirsty depths as your opponent just means they have already won. Second, where would it stop? For every one of me, I am sure there are twenty who don’t share my views. Life is too short to be constantly worrying about what other’s think and believe...unless it’s about film in which case I will fight dirty if necessary. :)