The Last Station

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Last Station Movie Poster Image
Mature Tolstoy biopic recounts his conflicted last days.
  • R
  • 2009
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This romantic period film delves into serious questions about loyalty to family, country, and self; there’s also much discussion about the importance of loving and being loved and how that may be the path to salvation.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tolstoy is almost saintly here, though only just. Though his love for his wife -- and vice versa -- is unwavering, he wrestles with larger questions that may supersede his family, much to his wife’s chagrin. Though she seems quarrelsome, it’s apparent that she acts out of concern and love for him. Valentin is the prism through which Tolstoy’s life and works are viewed, and his struggle to comprehend them is understandable and commendable.

Violence

Lots of loud quarrels between a husband and his wife -- they adore each other, but they can’t seem to agree on what to do about one major decision. A despondent woman attempts to drown herself in a lake.

Sex

A woman propositions a man she barely knows; later, they have sex (only her breasts are visible). Some candid conversations about sex and marriage and celibacy. The Tolstoys seduce each other with sexual banter.

Language

Nothing stronger than “tighta--,“ “bitch,” and “moron.”

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this period drama recounting Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s last months, while powerful and well acted, isn't too likely to appeal to kids. It has moments of both intense squabbling and gentle loving between the writer and his wife. Many of their fights are loud and painfully honest (though not venomous), and younger teens may find them disturbing. There’s also a sex scene with partial nudity (a woman's breasts) and a little swearing (though "bitch" is about as strong as it gets).

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What's the story?

Inspired by Jay Parini’s novel, THE LAST STATION follows the great writer (and count) Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) through the final months of his life as he wars with his beloved wife, Countess Sofya Andreyevna (Helen Mirren), over his inclination to leave the copyright for his books to the Russian people. His trusted advisor, Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) thinks he’s doing the right thing, but Sofya is driven to protect her family’s interests, too. Into the fray steps Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a young man who serves as Tolstoy's secretary and finds his belief in Tolstoy and the eponymous movement he inspired punctured by the realization that his idol is, above all else, human -- a man who struggles with the meaning of love, work, and life.

Is it any good?

First, the visuals: Gorgeous. Russia is verdant in spring, majestic in the winter. And then there’s the acting. To watch The Last Station is to witness three superb thespians flexing their muscles: Plummer gives an accomplished turn as the legendary writer; Mirren is a riveting spitfire as Sofya, and McAvoy impresses as the spectator to their operatic fights and quietly moving moments as man and wife. Their combined talents are why we go to the movies in the first place. Nearly all of the other characters in this riveting historical drama are also written well, though Giamatti’s Chertkov is a fuzzy rendering. He’s made more villainous than necessary, perhaps for cinematic tension.

Though the arguments so painstakingly painted here sometimes reach daytime-drama levels -- plates are thrown, voices boom! -- The Last Station ultimately does succeed, primarily by re-emphasizing Tolstoy’s enormous reach and profound gifts. In a world teeming with superficialities -- including writers who rely on trickery rather than wisdom and insight -- it’s a welcome reminder.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what the movie is trying to say about marriage. What makes the romances in this film similar to or different to other Hollywood pairings?

  • Does Leo and Sofya's relationship seem realistic? How much of the movie do you think is based on fact, and what parts might the filmmakers have had to fill in? Why might filmmakers sometimes alter the truth for a movie?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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