In The Last Sentence, by Swedish director Jan Troell, journalist and former theologian Torgny Segerstedt asks a variation on the old question “If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” If a writer protests and no one hears him, what is his ire worth?
It’s 1944, and since Hitler’s election as Chancellor in Germany, Segerstedt has been denouncing Nazism and Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. In a Sweden determined to stay out of the war, Segerstedt’s radical opinions have made him a wanted man and destroyed his personal life. But Hitler, it seems, still can’t be stopped. “I’ve been writing in sand, haven’t I?” Segerstedt asks his secretary.
Despite moments that portray him as an embattled hero, Troell’s treatment of Segerstedt is far from hagiography. The journalist distances himself from his wife and Jewish mistress, and his dead mother haunts him. Sure of his calling, he’s politically unsubtle, recalling another, fictional Scandinavian agitator: Ibsen’s Dr. Stockmann. Sometimes this directness is bad for business, as when he tells Gustav V exactly what he thinks of the country’s neutrality.
Other times, though, it’s genius: asked to excise a column, he keeps the headline and removes everything else. The blank page leaves no doubt as to who is afraid of the truth.
Watch the trailer for The Last Sentence: