Sunday, 11 March 2007
THE QUIET EARTH
The Quiet Earth (1985) dir. Geoff Murphy
Starring, Bruno Lawrence, Allison Routledge, Peter Smith
“The Quiet Earth” is a largely forgotten-about New Zealand sci-fi film from the 80’s. The premise is the frequent ‘what-if’ scenario of science fiction - what would you do if you were the last man on earth?
This question has sparked a whole subgenre of sci-fe ie. “The Omega Man,” “28 Days Later,” “several Twilight Zone episodes, and “The Stand”. Of course, it was Richard Mathieson’s seminal novel “I am Legend” that spawned all these interpretations – we’ll see how the Will Smith version of turns out…
A stark naked man, Zac (played by Bruno Lawrence) wakes up in his bed and goes about his everyday routine. Making coffee, showering, breakfast, his morning commute. Soon he realizes there’s no one else around. It’s as if people literally disappeared in a split second, there’s no dead bodies, cars are left derelict on the streets, a plane has crashed to the ground, a baby carriage left empty, a gas station washroom is left locked and occupied. Everything else in the world seems to work – electricity, radio frequencies, water. He wanders the streets aimlessly looking for someone, but to no avail.
As the days and weeks go by Zac accepts the world he lives in. In a series of fun sequences we see Zac pass the time by changing cars everyday, driving a train, drinking champagne for breakfast, moving into a mansion as his home and declaring himself emperor of the world. But the materialism of our society is no substitute for the need for community and social interaction. He’s on the brink of total madness when he meets another survivor, a young red-haired ‘beauty’ (hey, it’s the 80’s), Joanne (Alison Routledge).
Their companionship develops, though they never consummate – come on, they’re the last couple on earth, that’s the easiest pick up line. Anyways, I digress, Zac (a scientist in his former life) conducts scientific tests on the sun and discovers an anomaly in the universe, which could cause the earth's total destruction in a matter of days. The science of it all makes as much sense as launching Bruce Willis into space to stop of a hurdling meteor from crashing into earth, but for some reason you just play along.
Soon a third man, Api, shows up, which completes the love triangle. Joanne and Api fall in love thereby alienating Zac. They discover their common thread. They all died, of one way or another, at the moment of the disaster and were miraculously reborn in the solitude of the earth. It’s not Kierkegaard, but the explanation gives the characters context and meaning for their existence. It’s a second chance to rediscover life and love.
The film’s strength is when it stays away from the dramatic presumption of the post-apocalyptic world, that all our social morals would disappear and we, as Darwinist beings, would devolve into a carnal animalistic world of kill-or-be-killed. The opposite happens as the effect of their solitude enforces the characters’ need for companionship and love.
The three of them eventually settle their conflict and develop a plan to stop the further destruction of the world by blowing up the scientific testing facility from where the anomaly originated. It’s interesting that the film doesn’t answer the questions it poses, it’s told from the survivor’s point of view and instead asks the audience to interpret meaning religiously or philosophically or whatever term you wish to describe events outside the realm of physical explanation.
In the end Zac makes a selfless sacrifice in order to save Api and Allison. The final moments are particularly enigmatic, which may leave some feeling shortchanged, but we are left with an awesome image – perhaps an homage to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” of man entering a new world and a new life with so much more to discover. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Quiet Earth
NOTE, this is the awesome ending shot (contains spoilers):