What a beautiful, appealing film is the Last Station. Even if it takes placed during th final months of the celebrated author Leo Tolstoy's life, it is really about life and its complexities and choices and options. The scenes of the Russian countryside are beautiful and certainly explain why Tolstoy would opt for the pure country life in his later years. The acting is perfect with Helen Mirren and James McAvoy delivering wonderful performances. The film is about complexity also. Life offers complexity and this film does a superb job of revealing the conflicting nature of our desires and personal philosophy. Leo Tolstoy, played beautifully by Christopher Plummer, is torn between his love and loyalty to his large family and to the Russian peasants and the rest of downtrodden humanity. His wife, Countess Sophya Tolstoy, played by Mirren, wishes for the royalties of his many novels to remain as part of the family estate, providing her, her children, her grandchildren with income for generations to come. Yet Tolstoy's personal philosophy has become a new emerging ideology and the primary disciple and mover of the movement wishes that Tolstoy would make all his works available free of copy right to anyone who wishes to publish and distribute his work. The screenwriters displayed perfect balance between Helen Mirren as the Countess, concerned with the security of herself and family and that of Paul Giamatti who is standardizing and canonizing Tolstoy's philosophy for the good of mankind. Is the Countess greedy? Yes, but so is everyone to some extent. It is a normal human emotion and it is not until the Countess becomes extremely histrionic that Count Leo Tolstoy becomes weary of her manipulation. Giamatti plays a more controlled and careful character, trying to make the works of the great writer as accessible and affordable as possible, yet in the name of loving and helping mankind, he cuts corners and hurts. This is not a simple issue for we have seen the results of ideology gone wrong in the lives and careers of Robespierre, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, Stalin, and others. The zealot who will hurt other humans for a higher good is a theme of great importance for ideologies that are meant to spread love often spread pain, hatred, and intolerance. Tolstoy is torn between them personally and intellectually and the film displays his struggle to reconcile these warring camps. The screen writers inserted the naïve, thoughtful, observer in the character of Tolstoy's new secretary, played by James McAvoy. Tolstoy insists that all world religion is based on the common concept and experience of human love. McAvoy begins to experience that love and it opens him up to the struggle that Count Tolstoy undergoes in the power struggle between his wife and his disciples. Valentin, the secretary, is amazed that Tolstoy wishes to know all about him and to hear his life experiences. He is amazed that a great man wishes to hear the experiences and thoughts of a young man rather than relate his own illustrious career and philosophy. I love this concept in the film for great men are open to experiences of others, to their views, their pain and belief, for it fuels the mind and soul of a great man to hear these things. Tolstoy is the great man who wishes not to impress you with his philosophy but to open you to your own personal philosophy. The virgin Valentin is opened to a world of emotion, experience, and love when he meets a fellow pilgrim, Masha, played by the subtle beauty, Kerry Condon. Valentin is placed in a similar situation to Tolstoy, do we side with those whom we love or do we side with those comrades who join us in philosophy and ideology for the better good? Valentin calls Masha to him whereas Tolstoy must separate himself from hysteria to gain peace of mind in his final days.
The film is a beautiful life affirming experience and is highly recommended. I left the film feeling elated for there are no easy solutions, there are no uncomplicated relationships, there are no decisions that don't have unforeseen consequences; yet the human heart is a guide - a blind, innocent, easily fooled guide, but a guide none the less.