No words can justly convey the unsettling beauty of Last and First Men’s audiovisual essay, an apparently unfinished piece by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Thanks to Mark Bukdahl’s seamless editing work, you’d never guess that it wasn’t considered complete. It is also a testament to Jóhannsson’s creative prowess that obviously extended beyond his musical compositions, of which there are over 40 releases.
The pulse of the film feels reminiscent of the slight alteration of consciousness one can feel after a long period of meditation. Like most of his scores, a high-quality subwoofer is essential to enjoy this as intended. The physical sensations one gets from this minimalist sonic exploration can only be summed as the perfection.
The music in this film is a departure from his more well-known scores like Arrival and Sicario. He uses incredibly emotive string sections and choirs to create an overwhelming atmosphere that, at times, feels desperate. Hearing the sadness emanating from the acoustic arrangements, one cannot help but reflect on the events that led to Jóhannsson’s passing.
Tilda Swinton’s unwavering, emotionless narration is an ideal fit for Jóhannsson’s prose. She turns what was an incredibly expansive sci-fi saga and strips it down to the bare essentials. Jóhannsson direction of Swinton’s narration, the music and images of stone monuments all converge with rhythmic precision. The grainy black and white presentation adds a futuristic and otherworldly feel to the production.
It feels sadly fitting that the only film to bear Jóhannsson’s is such a powerful cinematic achievement. A testament to the creative mind that the man possessed, Last and First Men is 70 minutes of quintessential Jóhann Jóhannsson.