If reading the comments on any piece of internet content are any indication, most people are concerned about being the “first” to do something. This distinction is usually seen as a great accomplishment, as it signifies the entry into a new era where it is possible to achieve something that has never been achieved before. On the flip side of this coin, the end of something is usually a bittersweet moment filled with memories and regrets. Nothing lasts forever, and most of the time the start is brought in with great fanfare, while the end is a quiet fading into history. Speaking of history, most historians will focus on the individuals who are the first to accomplish something. Rarely are the last individuals to a legacy ever recognized. This week’s two films highlight a few individuals who hold the distinction of being the last of their kind.
The Last Emperor
Length: 163 minutes / 2.71 hours
The world changes over time in many ways; not only geologically, but politically as well. While certain societal constructs have been in place for centuries, all it takes is a simple revolution to change everything. Longstanding dynasties filled with generations of rulers can be swept aside in an instant once the culture is ripe for change. Sometimes this change is needed as the advances in technology and ideology outpace the outdated sentiments of established practices. Sometimes the long line of rulers becomes corrupted and a fresh start is needed. Sometimes a stronger outside force overpowers the incumbent government. Whatever the reason, a ruler of a country can suddenly find themselves at the end of a long line of lineage, marking the end of their dynasty and the start of a new political era.
With no way to know of the turmoil that his country would eventually endure, 2-year-old Puyi (John Lone) finds himself crowned as the Emperor of China. This new position is one he eventually grows into, albeit over a long span of time. In that interim, one of his most trusted friends, Reginal Johnston (Peter O’Toole), teaches him about the world at large. Meanwhile, rumblings of this new culture of communism begin to sweep through China, prompting Puyi into exile in Japan. Once he returns, he is captured as a political prisoner and forced to admit that the communist way of doing things is the right way. Despite a suicide attempt, former Emperor Puyi eventually realizes that he can live a quiet life if he just agrees to the changes that have occurred in his country. While it is difficult to watch some of his friends and advisors punished, he still knows in his heart that he was the Last Emperor of China.
The Last Samurai
Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours
There are many dangerous occupations, but none are nearly as dangerous as being a soldier. When your life is on the line for your job, it can be easy to find yourself as the last of your kind. Even whole nations of warriors, like the Spartans in 300 (2007) or the Mohicans in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), can find themselves the victims of enormous massacres leaving very few, if any, of them remaining. Unfortunately, this is merely one of the realities of war: people will die. However, finding yourself as the last of a nation is a difficult scenario in and of itself. Do you rebuild? Do you surrender and become part of the new order (somewhat akin to the aforementioned The Last Emperor (1987))? As the last of a dynasty, is it your responsibility to then be the first to begin the next chapter of its saga?
Despite the numerous actions that now haunt his thoughts from the Indian Wars, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) decides to accept an offer from the Japanese government to train soldiers to deal with a samurai rebellion. When he arrives in Japan, Algren finds that the “soldiers” he is to train are anything but. As such, when the samurai attack a railroad, these poorly trained individuals are sent into battle to die, even despite Algren’s opposition to this decision. While in battle, he manages to kill one of the samurai in such a way that causes the leader of the rebels to take him to their village. Once there, he slowly comes to understand and sympathize with the rebels, eventually joining their forces after proving himself worthy. When the samurai attack the well-trained Imperial soldiers, they initially do well, but are slaughtered by modern technology, leaving Algren as the Last Samurai.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 last legacies