Taking its initial cue from an idea not entirely dissimilar to that in Torchwood: Miracle Day, Tim Maupin’s fifteen-minute short The Last Generation to Die comes at the prospect of humanity finally finding an antidote to death, from a completely different angle and finds its conclusions accordingly. Set in the near-ish future, the genetic research company Apeiron Life have developed a strain of DNA which they can deliver into the body via a virus, and which subsequently edits the genes therein to essentially arrest the possibility of natural death. We arrive late in the research process, and following a bookending series of interviews with patients and researchers (a nice short-hand that allows the film’s conceit to be delivered quickly and easily, and thereafter its message to be alluded to without over-stressing it), we meet Anna, who has pulled some strings to get her 79-year-old father Paul into the programme.
Economically but beautifully shot, The Last Generation to Die uses some simple computer effects to convey how close to now this projected future is, extrapolating its ideas – both those relevant to the conceit and those tangential to it – from our current capabilities, while filming both its interior and exterior scenes as soon after sun-up or before sunset as possible, creating an elegiac atmosphere (enhanced by the ambient musical soundtrack), that helps immeasurably to illustrate the emotional core of the characters’ story. Because the main thrust of the plot is Paul’s indecision over whether prolonging his life is “the right thing”, particularly given that he is now a widower.
Rebecca Spence is excellent as Anna, communicating the desperation of a daughter who is close to losing a second parent, in spite of the presented alternative, with subtlety and sincerity, but it is Red West who carries the emotional heft of the film, giving an outstanding performance as a man reassessing what it is that’s important in a life, and questioning whether extending that existence is to its benefit or otherwise. And those are the questions that The Last Generation to Die poses, whether it is better to enjoy one’s finite existence to the full – something that none of us can of course ever really do, given the decisions we make on a daily basis that will forever affect the paths our lives will follow – or to take advantage of a lengthening of it, in the hope that a longer future can bring a greater happiness.
Maupin’s film answers these questions only ambiguously; alluding to the problems an expanded population will create, while simultaneously demonstrating ways in which artificially lengthened lives can profit us individually. The (necessary) absence of a definitive answer produces a bittersweet watching experience, but a very rewarding one.
THE LAST GENERATION TO DIE / CERT: N/A / DIRECTOR: TIM MAUPIN / SCREENPLAY: ELI SAMUEL, TIM MAUPIN / STARRING: RED WEST, REBECCA SPENCE / RELEASE DATE: SCREENING AT FESTIVALS SINCE AUTUMN 2015