What has happened, exactly, is sort of a mystery. (There's a lot that's undefined in '4:44.' Ferrara wasn't quite sure, for example, which one of the couple could afford the apartment and the assortment of high-tech toys they interact with: "One of them comes from means," was all he could suggest during the press conference.) At one point a newscaster says, simply, "Al Gore was right." So: a global climate catastrophe, and the scientists have pinpointed 4:44 am as the moment when all life on earth (at least as far as human beings are concerned) will come to a screeching halt. What's an arty, combustible New York couple to do?
Dafoe becomes fixated with the television as well, specifically with the reports of the reaction to the impending apocalypse. In one memorable scene he looks towards the television screen, to see the Dalai Lama discussing greed, and he has a debate with the television, urging the Lama to condemn money as the ultimate earthly evil.
And then there's the sex, which Ferrara films in loving close-up, a snap of bare flesh here, a pair of pert nipples there, with an emphasis on the couples' sounds. At one point Leigh (who is the kind of hippie artist who shaves her privates, walks around the apartment in old-timey pajamas, and spends much of the movie working on a large, mural-sized painting of a biblical ouroboros), urges Dafoe to come inside her during one tryst. She seems to be hedging her bets: just in case the scientists were wrong and there are still some people left behind, she wants to make sure she can repopulate things.
But for all its arty posturing, there's something anticlimactic and, ultimately, unfulfilling about '4:44.' Without the budget to convey, either through extensive dialogue or visual effects, the doom awaiting our characters, it's hard to get entirely caught up in their predicament. There is an emotional attachment, for sure. Spending an hour and a half with two characters will do that to you. But once The End finally arrives, there's nothing more than the hazy sensation of the Northern Lights above the Manhattan skyline and some pseudo-spiritual/scientific assumption of what will occur. While Ferrara's approach to the subject matter is admirable (and brings to mind another New York Film Festival entry, Lars von Trier's considerably more impressive "Melancholia"), there's not enough zip to make you truly care. Ferrara, in the press conference following the screening, admitted a certain amount of debt to the disaster genre, but he seems unaware of the emotional stakes required for such an endeavor. It's the end of the world as we know it, and you'll feel fine. [C-]
This is a reprint of our review from NYFF.