WASHED-OUT colours signal the tone of The Last Photograph (Cert. 12). Tom Hammond (Danny Huston), a lone parent, is exactly that, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief over the death of his son, Luke (Jonah Hauer-King). The 21 December 1988 Pan-Am Flight 103 bound for New York exploded mid-air over Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, killing Luke plus the other 242 passengers and 16 crew as well as 11 local residents.
The film switches, sometimes confusingly, between 1988 and a pre-Covid-19 present. Flashbacks reveal that Luke was flying to the United States to join his girlfriend Kate (Stacy Martin) for Christmas. Scant attention is given to what caused the explosion. Examination of bereavement takes precedence over blaming a third party. Huston’s film — he also directed it — makes survivor’s guilt and experience of loss its theme.
Tom tries coping in various ways. Luke en route to Heathrow makes his father promise to realise his dream of opening a bookstore instead of his hateful City job. He does so in Chelsea Farmers Market, opposite a café run by Hannah (Sarita Choudhury). We witness angry outbursts, inexplicable to other characters, such as her hauling her outdoor seating further away from his shop. Viewers aware of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s research (On Death and Dying, for example) will recognise anger as one of five stages of grieving. It erupts when customers steal Tom’s briefcase while he stands by the Mind, Body, and Spirit books.
The bag contained £500, but it was the last photograph taken of Tom and Luke together which matters. The picture is a holy relic, something to venerate in Luke’s absence. Tom rushes out in unsuccessful pursuit of the thieves, ending up in St Luke’s, Sydney Street. Glaring at a pietà oil-painting, he yells: “I said, ‘You’ve fucking forsaken me!’” But is this transferring his rage on to Christ, who can take it, not Luke, who cannot? It is enough to summon the Vicar. (Strange how often the clergy in films seem to spend their entire time in church). He tells Tom that he’s listening, but the scene is cut short; so we never know what’s said.
This is the nearest that we get for quite a while to any insights into Tom’s religious beliefs. The conversation in church seems to have produced something positive. Immediately afterwards, Tom calls on Hannah to apologise for his aggressive behaviour and begins unburdening himself. Thankfully, the film doesn’t then descend into abrupt closure whereby everyone lives happily ever after. The theft serves to reawaken the bereaved father’s sufferings, and there are, almost by the book, other aspects of the Kübler-Ross model still to be shown.
In a 1988 sequence, Tom goes through the Denial stage, refusing to believe that Luke hasn’t survived the crash. Later, there’s the Bargaining and then Depression. The time of death has become the death of time for the man. Viewers, of course, will hope that some kind of Stage 5 Acceptance is reached. This isn’t quite as mechanical as it may read, but nor is The Last Photograph the tear-jerker that one might have expected.