Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay. Today’s film is 1971’s The Last Child! It can be viewed on YouTube!
Welcome to the “near future.”
Panicked by hysterical claims about overpopulation and environmental catastrophe, Americans have sacrificed the majority of their civil liberties. Smiling policeman stand on every corner and in every public hallway. Of course, once their authority is challenged, those smiles quickly disappear. Crude posters have been put up everywhere, demanding that everyone watch their consumption of natural resources. The social engineers and the eugenicists are in charge. Anyone over the age of 65 is ineligible for medical care and encouraged to consider euthanasia. Couples are allowed to have only one child and the government requires that anyone who gets pregnant a second time have an abortion. Anyone who questions the policy is told that they have no choice but to follow the law. It’s their civic duty. The media, meanwhile, runs headlines declaring that the one child policy has led to world peace.
Alan and Karen Miller (played by Michael Cole and Janet Margolin) have already had their one child. That their child died shortly after birth doesn’t matter in the eyes of Barstow (Ed Asner), the Himmleresque head of the Population Control Police. Every couple is allowed one child and that’s it. When Karen gets pregnant a second time, she is determined to have the baby. She and Alan know that their only hope is to cross the border into Canada. Helping them is a retired U.S. Senator (Van Heflin, in his final performance) who is opposed to the government’s policies. Caught in the middle of Karen’s brother, Howard (Harry Guardino). Howard works for the Population Control Police and he knows just how far Barstow is willing to go to keep Karen from having her baby.
The Last Child opens with a title card informing us that the film takes place in the “not-too-distant future.” Along with all of the propaganda posters, that’s the only real sign that this film is meant to be taking place in the future. There’s no “futuristic” technology. Everyone dresses in the latest 1971 fashions. Everyone drives the latest 1971 automobiles. Though the decision may have been motivated by the film’s low-budget, the lack of the typical sci-fi trappings serves the film well. The Last Child does not take place in a sleekly designed future and it doesn’t takes place in an apocalyptic wasteland. Instead, it takes place in a world that is just as shabby as you would expect a world controlled and decorated by a government bureaucracy to be. It’s a gray dystopia, populated by people who have given up their individuality. It’s a world that’s visually boring by design and that makes it all the more disturbing.
The Last Child is an effective and well-acted film. It probably feels more plausible today than it did when it aired back in 1971. In many ways, with its portrait of unfeeling government officials and bland authoritarianism, it’s the perfect film for the age of COVID. Indeed, the government’s policy of refusing to provide life-saving care for people over the age of 65 is reminiscent of what many pundits advocated for at the height of the COVID pandemic. As for the film’s one child policy, that too is a concept that has become recently popular with many American academics. Among many members of the so-called “elites,” there’s a definite need to try to control people and that very real need is what makes The Last Child so disturbingly plausible. In The Last Child, sanctuary is found in Canada. Today, of course, Canada is at the forefront of the euthanasia trend. Of course, in 1971, the Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau and not Justin.
Pierre Trudeau’s personal motto was “Reason before passion” and that’s certainly the philosophy that fuels the dystopian society at the center of The Last Child. It’s a film that holds up today as both a thriller and a prophecy,