“The Last Station”
 
            What happens when you have a furious argument with your spouse of long standing, leave in a huff to a destination intentionally unknown, and then you die there?  Ah, love.
            It was Leo Tolstoy himself who said, “Whatever I know, I know because I love.”  This feels-real story takes place at the very end of Tolstoy’s life, Russia, 1910.  The Czarists are still in power, World War I hasn’t broken out yet, the world is enjoying the prosperity of the post-Industrial Revolution, and Tolstoy is one of the most celebrated authors of his generation.  “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” were blockbusters, even in his lifetime.  He’s such a celebrity that people are starting to fawn over him, and think of him as a kind of guru, with his ahead-of-his time ideas of the dignity of manual labor, the waste and unfairness of owning private property, or accumulating too many personal possessions, the need to free the people from the oppressive morality of religion, and reducing the influence of the church.  Marxx and Lenin, of course, espoused many of the same ideas, but probably none of these idealists would have envisioned the horrors of Stalinist pogroms, or the subsequent oppressiveness of Soviet Communism, with its omni-present secret police, the KGB.  Here, all we have are some Naïve, simple-minded Tolstoyans living in some kind of farming commune, with a strong undercurrent of his political compadre, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti), wanting the revered novelist to will his considerable holdings to the collective farm.  Tolstoy’s wife of 48 years, Sophia (Helen Mirren), is dead set against it all:  not only the disenfranchisement of the whole family (they had 13 children), but his canonization by these preening sycophants cleverly disguised as benevolent pacifists.  The trouble is, the harder she tries to bring her famous husband back down to earth, the more impatient he becomes with her, claiming that her histrionics are disrupting his writing.
            It’s not easy to be humble when everyone around you is hanging on your every word, as if you just said something deeply profound.  It’s also difficult to be casual, offhanded, flippant, or, especially, profane.  Christopher Plummer plays this role like Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series:  the long-bearded patriarch who’s accustomed to being the revered one, and wears his moral authority easily because he knows no one can take it away from him.  Eventually, though, he decides that he has to absent himself from t his drama-queen harpy that his wife has become:  a quiet but firm resolve which only makes her more desperate to get his attention, so they can somehow recover their former cuddly, intimate spousal selves.  But it just wasn’t going to happen, especially when their own daughter Sash (Anne-Marie Duff) aligns herself with those who would exclude the prattling, inconvenient Sofya from the presence of The Great One.
            James McAvoy plays Valentin, the last social secretary, who somehow must sort out his own allegiances, at the same time he is falling in love himself, and not just with the ideals of the pre-Revolution.
            Not even a very accomplished actress can pull off int4entionally overacting, but somehow Helen Mirren does, and there appears to be some latent chemistry between her screeching, cloying Sofya and Plummer’s mightily ambivalent Tolstoy.  Those performances alone are worth the price of admission, and, best of all, it’s a true story that seems genuine, perhaps even ingenious.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas