Independent film director Abel Ferrara (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant) uses New York City as the backdrop for his latest film, the apocalypse themed drama 4:44 Last Day on Earth. The film stars Willem Dafoe (Platoon, John Carter) and Shanyn Leigh (Public Enemies, Go Go Tales) as Cisco and Skye, a New York City couple reflecting on their lives and relationship on the eve of the end of humanity.
Ferrara sat with journalists for a round table discussion in New York.
What was the significance of the time 4:44 for the end of the world?
Shanyn (Leigh – lead actress) is a numerologist. 4:44 has a very heavy Chinese meaning. Four means death. That’s a heavy meaning. There’s that point in it, that 4:44 means death. They may have to change that title in China. But at the same time the film is in New York. 4:44 is only on the East coast. The world is going to end at 1:44 in Los Angeles. And the world is going to end at 10:44 in the morning in Rome, right? In New York the bars close at 4. It’s almost 4:44 is the time like if it’s not happening by 4:44, go home. At what time is the night over?
Is there a part of you that truly fears the end is coming?
I don’t know about personally fearing it, I can accept it. There are much more advanced civilizations than us that have gone down. One thing I want to make sure of with this film, this wasn’t a meteorite hitting the earth. This was due to man’s destruction of what is out there. You can buy in to Al Gore’s idea, you can dismiss it. You can say, because a bunch of hackers come up with a bunch of fu**in’ e-mails that might or might not be real. You know, there’s a lot of words going back. But it’s like the Dalai Lama says in the movie, we don’t control nature. If we don’t understand we’re part of nature and that if we think we can abuse it and not use it. You’re going to be in for a surprise like the people in Easter Island and there’s a lot of other civilizations, too.
Where would you want to be at the end?
I think that film is pretty much what I would be doing. I mean, I’m not going to go to Times Square and watch the ball come down.
(SPOILER ALERT) At certain points in the film you showed a disturbance in the atmosphere.
A disturbance of wind. Because outside in the wind there’s a disturbance of the atmosphere. If the ozone is protecting us from the rays of the sun, and the ozone is gone, then that’s it. These kinds of films are not scientific documentaries. I had my guy from Stanford, and he said, “Listen, go with the Twilight Zone.” We’re dealing with fiction. I just wanted to make sure it came from the earth. What would happen if we didn’t have the ozone protecting us from the sun? It would be like you’re in a f**king, you know, microwave. How painful is that gonna be, I don’t know. The film isn’t about that.
Come on, look outside today, it’s March. This is f**kin’ March. Sure, you could say, “Okay, it’s just another day.” You know, come on.
It’s going to be what they say it’s going to be. The guy that come up with aerosol spray deodorant, did he think he was destroying the ozone? No, but if you’re not aware of it…but the worst part is to be aware of it and not give a f**k. But what are you going to tell them [China and India] they’re not gonna have their 50’s [era]? They’re not gonna have, you know what I mean, age of consumerism? You know, blatant global destructing consumerism. What are we going to say? “Okay I had it and it’s really not that big a deal anyway. Stay on the farm.”
(SPOILER ALERT) In 4:44 there was a very strong theme about sobriety.
I’m drinking water, so it really was about that. Obviously he’s in the program, Willem (Dafoe’s character in the film Cisco). He’s counting days. And then came that moment. He came to the drug dealers obviously to score and then he bumps into this cat with 20 years sobriety. So the point was, was he going to get high or wasn’t he going to get high?
What neighborhood did you grow up in?
I was born in the Bronx, and I grew up in upstate New York.
The neighborhood I came from was very Italian and very protected. It was very dangerous in a way of white street gangs when I was really young. But then I moved away from it. But then I moved to a town that was like the crack capital of New York, Peekskill.
What are your thoughts on how New York’s changed in the last 20 years with all of the cycles the city goes through over time?
This city has changed. It became very much international. It started with Giuliani, it became very much focused on the money. It’s become an international financial capital, which it’s always been. But it’s spread from just Wall Street and neighborhoods like here (midtown) to almost all of Manhattan. So if you want to go to Manhattan you gotta go to Brooklyn now. Brooklyn is the new Manhattan.
4:44 Last Day on Earth is currently in theaters.