The Last Male on Earth counts down the final days of Sudan, the (now deceased) last male Northern White Rhino. Floor van der Meulen’s account of the last 984 days of Sudan’s life is a craftful clash of the tragedy of extinction and the often uncomfortably comedic impact of humankind’s ‘too little too late’ attempts at dealing with the disappearance of an endangered species.
Shots of Sudan grazing restfully are interjected with interviews from his carers, marketing representatives, rhino IVF scientists, and tourists, all of whom express the importance of saving the species. Van der Meulen’s portrayal of these people suggests a self-reflective irony, particularly when addressing the Northern White Rhino’s future, and the challenges involved in preserving it.
Van der Meulan’s footage of people and interviews throughout are fascinating to watch, particularly in regards to their relationship with the camera and their surroundings. We meet tourists visiting the conservancy, glamping and staying in luxury accommodation, and the audience is unfortunately made to laugh at the irony of their comfort. They are interviewed amongst king sized beds and expensive hotel art, while discussing the transcendental experience of meeting the world’s last surviving rhino and making promises to preach the gospel of extinction when they return home.
When they’re not being interviewed, van der Meulen’s human subjects are portrayed playfully through the use of slow motion editing, and shots are reminiscent of nature and wildlife footage, slowed down in order to see an animal’s often too quick movements. This mirror van der Meulen is holding up to humankind is intended to shift the audience’s gaze from observing an animal’s extinction to concluding that the impact we have on nature and the environment needs to be addressed. While we, as viewers, may not have committed the act of poaching ourselves, we’re still to blame for not preventing it from happening, and simply, up till this point, not caring enough.
Floor van der Meulen’s The Last Male on Earth screens on Saturday 7th September at Curzon Soho, as part of Open City Documentary Festival 2019. Follow The Last Male on Earth on Facebook and the film’s website.
Catriona is a London-based film festival and cinema marketer, with a particular love of documentaries and Middle Eastern cinema.