Jan Troell’s The Last Sentence tells the story of Torgny Segerstedt (Jesper Christensen), the former newspaper editor in Sweden, where he spent more than a decade of his wartime tenure penning editorials lambasting Nazi Germany and the neutrality of the Swedish government.
The film’s original title is Dom över död man, or Judgment of the Dead Man, which seems appropriate given the unusual emphasis throughout on legacies and reputations. Toward the end of his life, Segerstedt’s chief concern seems to be how he will be remembered by the world, and much of the film is dedicated to indulging his reflections upon the value of his contributions to history. (It’s perhaps worth pointing out here that Troell himself, an elder statesman of the Swedish cinema, celebrates his 83rd birthday in July; he may feel a certain kinship in Segerstedt’s ruminations.)
Interestingly, if not quite successfully, The Last Sentence gravitates early on to the turmoil endured in Segerstedt’s private life, illustrating in considerable detail his turbulent romances and extramarital affairs as if these might hold the key to understanding his crusade against Hitler.
Troell puts a great deal of stock in this sort of trite psychologizing; he even invokes the ghost of a dead mother to point us in the right direction. This attention to the personal crises of Segerstedt comes at the expense of a broader and more elusive subject, namely, the war. We know what Segerstedt did, and Troell tries to ask why. What he ignores are the implications.