“The last thing to go is habit”
At the end of the world, when you look back upon the life you lived, would you have regrets? What would they be? What if you were the last man on earth? Would you be able to cope with that kind of desolation and isolation and learn to live (or rather exist) within the confines of your own emotions? First-time Writer/Director A.D. Barker’s film A Reckoning never distinctly addresses any of these heady questions—rather it dances like black-clad mime against a stark white backdrop around those themes, never offering any true answers to any of the films innumerable mysteries. A character study in the maddening disintegration of a man (Leslie Simpson; The Descent) who, by the time we meet him, is already completely insane.
The Man, is the possibly the last survivor of some horrific event that has left his small village a bleak wasteland of empty buildings trapped in a seemingly never ending winter. The film however, is careful to never reveal the time or place (only the man’s accent exposes his British origins, although the film never specifies it is set in the British Isles.). The time could be any, the place could be any, the man could be any. This is not a Hollywood interpretive of Richard Matheson’s doomed Robert Neville. There are no vampires to battle. There is no meditative Spielbergian quest with a Kubrickian twist on the end of times. There is nothing left in A Reckoning but nothing. Closer to Cormac McCarthy’s austere masterpiece “The Road” than perhaps even that film adaptation was—A Reckoning is bleak and hopeless and yet, in the end, there is hope to be had.
The film centers around two distinctly opposing forces. The pale blanket of grayish snow that covers the earth as dead as the landscape that wastes away around it, and the man who in the center of it all, jogs and builds fires and reads poetry and gets up every morning to teach school to a collection of life-size straw puppets he has accepted as his pupils. Was this man ever a teacher before? As he utters “habit is the last thing to go”, are we to believe that he just continues his daily routine, living, as it were, in a complete state of denial of all that surrounds him?
Once again, I believe the film is asking its audience, to accept what would (to our own minds) be the unacceptable—to feel and recognize and understand that if we had nothing left to live for, what would we have to live for. What would we do in the end of days? Would we just continue to sleepwalk through our lives? Would we get up every day and go to work and sit in front of computers that wouldn’t boot up, behind desks that were decaying, eating lunch in break rooms with no light, visiting parks that were devoid of children’s laughter and stopping to smell flowers that will never bloom? It drains even the viewer to comprehend a world that is so incomprehensible. Would we be haunted by the ghosts of our past, the way the Man in this tale is? Would we descend so far into madness that the dreams would become reality and the ghosts would manifest themselves as reality (or at least, our own twisted version of reality)? The concept is so foreign and fearful that it’s unnerving to even consider it.
A Reckoning is certainly not a film for all, Spartan and severe, the dialogue is limited, the action is minimalist and the plot is virtually non-existent. But it captivates in a way that is all encompassing. The performance from Leslie Simpson is a revelation—and he holds the viewer with every sunken-eyed stare. Rarely is an actor called upon to give so much to a role. Trapped in this forsaken place, Simpson has nothing and no one but his straw people to push his performance. It is a powerful piece and one that will drive the viewer directly into the main characters shoes—which is the place where A Reckoning really lives and breathes. So, as this film becomes available to a wider audience, consider whether or not you are mentally equipped to take the journey laid before you by the cast and crew of this amazing little independent film. Because, like it or not, it may force you to recognize your own mortality and drive you to consider what you might do, if everything and everyone you loved suddenly vanished.