The Last Station: Leo Tolstoy

Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren in "The Last Station"

The biographical film The Last Station (2009), directed by Michael Hoffman, follows the final months of literary talent Leo Tolstoy.

My first thought before watching the film was, what was the significance of the title? Prior to watching I had only seen previews and assumed it was basically a love story in which the elderly couple struggles to maintain their emotional attachment without tearing each other apart, because in my naive mind this is what happens after years of marriage. Well, this assumption was not far off, but now I have been historically informed that Tolstoy in fact fell ill once arriving at the Astapovo train station in Russia, 1910. Unfortunately, this illness came on as he finally made the decision to abandon his family and his wealth. The station master put him up in his apartment, called his doctors, and helped Tolstoy as much as he could before he succumbed to his fate at the age of 82.

The acting in The Last Station is utterly breathtaking. Dame Helen Mirren and one of my favourite Canadian exports, Christopher Plummer, starred as Leo and Sophia Tolstoy. Their performances are gut gripping, tear jerking, and exude an intangible passion and connection to each other through their turbulent outbursts of frustration, suspicion, and grief. Mirren was especially impressive in her performance. Most noteworthy was her impulsive reaction to the letter that her husband had left her, which led her into an uncontrollable frenzy and an over-dramatic crawl along the dock, her forlorn body plunging into the lake. Though her unruly temper seems rather unwarranted at times, you cannot help but feel attached to her emotional grip. You are on her side, feeling the deceit and betrayal as her husband seems to want to throw away his legacy and rights to his work after his death, however you are also on Plummer’s side, wanting him to find peace and comfort in his final days, not worrying about legal obligations.

Leo and Sophia Tolstoy on their estate

Another love story that develops is between Tolstoy’s secretary, Valentin, played by James McAvoy, and a young fiery woman named Masha, played by Kerry Condon. Valentin arrives at the estate consumed by the ideals of the Tolstoians, but an encounter with the lovely Masha revises his perception and leads him down a new path where he finds the meaning behind each word Tolstoy has said or written: love prevails.

An incredible film and a beautiful tribute to a man who changed the literary world with two books, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. I like the fact that this man’s life has been shared with a new audience, including myself, and hopefully people become curious to dive deeper into his work.

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