last and first men

Jóhann Jóhannson died in 2018, but as one of the most celebrated composers in Hollywood, he left behind a legacy and a body of work that included scores for Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, Arrival, Mandy, Mary Magdalene, and more. Now there’s one more element being added to that legacy: Jóhansson’s feature directorial debut, Last and First Men. While no wide release date has been announced yet, the movie will play at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, giving fans one last chance to see a new work from the talented artist and to hear his final score, as well.

According to The Playlist, Last and First Men is a 16mm black and white adaptation of author Olaf Stapledon’s influential science fiction novel, with the movie evidently telling a loose version of that story. Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Avengers: Endgame) provides the voice of the narrator, who details humanity’s evolution across a two billion year time period, with multiple sub-species which follow the rise and fall of the one preceding it. (I haven’t read it myself, but it sounds fascinating: in the book, one culture worships music – something Jóhansson could probably relate to.)

Jóhannsson had previously written and directed one documentary short called End of Summer, which featured imagery of soldiers and dogfights in war superimposed over footage of headstones in a cemetery, with appropriately haunting music playing under it all. So it makes sense that The Playlist refers to his vision of Last and First Men as “more of a multi-media production” than a traditional narrative or documentary, and that “the visuals focus on brutalist architecture, sculptures, and other Earthly images, contrasting the story that is being delivered by Swinton.” Sounds like a bit of a head trip, but I have to imagine that any fan of Jóhannsson’s work will be delighted to at least hear his score for the new movie, which is being performed by the BBC Philharmonic.

/Film’s Jacob Hall interviewed Jóhannsson back in 2016 around the release of Arrival, and it was crystal clear that the artist was someone who prided himself in crafting bold, interesting, risk-taking work that pushed boundaries and didn’t play things safe. Be sure to check out that full interview if you haven’t read it for some insight into his personality, his inspirations, and the way he worked, and stay tuned for a potential wider release date for Last and First Men. In the meantime, attendees of the Berlin Film Festival can check out the film in person when that festival begins late next month.

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