Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Title: The Quiet Earth (1985)

Director: Geoff Murphy

Cast: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Peter Smith


The Quiet Earth presents us with one of the quietest versions of the apocalypse ever portrayed on film. Usually, in post apocalyptic films, the end of the world comes via a nuclear bomb or a deadly virus…on The Quiet Earth people simply blink out of existence. One day, Zac Hobson wakes up and slowly discovers that apparently he is the last man on earth. The streets are empty, not a soul in sight. Where the hell is everybody? Where have they all dissapeared to? I'd seen this film before, but since Im currently conducting this huge post apocalyptic blog-a-thon, I decided to give it a re-watch. Plus, my good friend J.D. from Radiator Heaven suggested it on our 15 of the Apocalypse collaboration, which got me all pumped to watch it again. So, how did it fare? 

When you watch the first few minutes of The Quiet Earth, when the main character,  Zac Hobson, first wakes up naked on his bed and starts walking around town confronted by lonely streets and abandoned cars; you might feel as if you were watching Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002); the similarities between both of these opening sequences is staggering! There is no doubt in my mind that Danny Boyle borrowed heavily from The Quiet Earth, at least for the opening sequence. I mean, we even get the same kind of camera shots, same kind of situations. When we first meet Zac, he is lying naked on his bed, same as Jim when he wakes up from his hospital bed in 28 Days Later. They both wonder through the lonely city streets, filled with empty cars, they both scream “Hello!” at nobody. They both end up meeting a lady at some point. The difference between both films is that while 28 Days Later is a film about a deadly virus that turns people into violent, blood thirsty zombies, The Quiet Earth takes a more existential approach with it’s story.

I love this kind of science fiction films because it takes the opportunity to explore human behavior. It analyzes society. The main theme in the film is humanities destructive capabilities and how we are always looking for better and more effective ways of destroy ourselves. Now, those familiar with history know what we humans are capable of doing to ourselves when we start hating each other. In The Quiet Earth we meet Zac Hobson, a scientist who’d been working -in collaboration with scientists from around the world- in a new form of energy. Unfortunately, after he is in deep, he discovers the awesome destructive capabilities of the project he is working on (called Project Flashlight) and decides to not only stop working on it, but to actually kill himself; which brings to mind all those scientists that worked on constructing the Atomic Bomb. When we think about these guys, the question inevitably arises: where were their collective consciences? Did they not feel guilt over the fact that what they were making something that would go on to blink thousands of lives out of existence? But this is just one of the themes that The Quiet Earth addresses.

It also talks about government and how once they reach power, and are engulfed by it, they act as mad men. We let them rule over us, and they turn into mad men doing things we end up being ashamed of. For example Zac soon comes to terms with the fact that he could very well be the last man on earth. After a while, and during a time when he is mingling with insanity, he decides that he will become “the president of this Quiet Earth” Why does he crown himself president? As he speaks to cardboard cut outs of important historical figures like The Pope, Hitler and Nixon (interesting how the filmmakers placed them all one next to the other!) Zac mentions that we are at the mercy of madmen, a very real statement when we take in considerations the horrors that have been committed by politicians across history! Yes my friends, this is a film that tells us that we are better off without politicians and without religion. There is this amazing and extremely controversial scene in which Zac enters a church and starts asking God to show up. “Where are you?” He asks. Then, he threatens god by telling him that if he doesn’t show up, he is going to blow away “the kid”, referring to a crucifix of Jesus. Since God doesn’t show up, Zac proceeds to blow Jesus Christ away with a shotgun! And he proclaims himself God! This film is saying, there is no God. If there was, he’d give a damn. Instead, humans should realize they are the ones with the potential to make their lives better.

Zac is "born again"

Another question this film asks is, what would you do if you were The Last Man on Earth? If you felt no one was watching you? If you had no government, no religion and no fellow man to judge you? For a while there, Zac goes totally nuts. He looses it, becomes a drunkard, he feels like he wants to destroy the world. These scenes reminded me of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend and Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth (1964) because we meet a man who walks the earth alone, driven insane by loneliness.  The film deals with this idea that we need other humans and I agree, we do need our fellow man. We need the warmth we give each other when we are at our best, when we forget all these petty differences that often times tear us apart. War, patriotism, religious fanaticism, social status, all these things do is separate us. What the film asks is: what if these things were never around? What if we were all the same? Would this be a better world? According to the film, it would be. What if the world wasn’t so centered around making money? Around ‘being successful’? What if we could just enjoy the world and its many beauties and treasures? Enjoying each others company and making each other happy? Often times I think society as we know it is all wrong. It isn’t about making us happy (though we do try) but upon making us feel worse, trapped. Through the redundancy of our lives, the opportunity to enjoy this world and the beauties it holds is taken from us. The film has these beautiful scenes of humans simply enjoying each others company, having a candlelit dinner, smiling, laughing, seeing the world. There’s a song by QUEEN that says “this could be heaven for everyone”, and I totally agree. It could be, but it isn’t heaven for everyone; because the way things are set up, this earth is heaven only to the elitist, rich few, the minority. The one percent who want to rule of the other 99. 

Last words on The Quiet Earth: this is a film that addresses many important issues about life. It questions the status quo of things; it questions politics, religion and the way we are. It questions our ideas about what happens after death. It questions our violent natures. I thought it was interesting how in this film, whenever a human encounters another they always do so with a gun in their hands. Humans never seem to trust each other! The Quiet Earth comes to us from director Geoff Murphy, the guy responsible for Freejack (1992), another film that questions reality and social status. In terms of direction, this film was interesting. First because filming all those scenes involving empty city streets must have been a hell of a task that they pulled it off brilliantly and secondly, constructing a film that centers for the most part on one character (and later only on two more) must have been difficult, but again, pulled off very well. To me the film was never boring because it plays with so many important and thought provoking issues. In the end, The Quiet Earth is a very rewarding science fiction film, the ending is kind of abrupt, but it will keep you asking questions long after it is over; like the best science fiction films.

Rating: 4 out of 5   



Unknown said...

Well said! I couldn't agree more. This is one the more cerebral sci-fi films and one that, as you rightly point out, asks a lot of questions and leaves it up to the viewer to figure them out on their own. Fantastic film.

Franco Macabro said...

This is true J.D., I loved that spaced out surreal ending, it kind of makes you think:


Were they in heaven? Were they in another dimension? Did humans really dissapear? I even got to thinking that maybe all humans where transported to some other planet or something!

But in all honesty, those last scenes in which Zac sees that planet with rings on it just makes me think that he traveled to a whole different planet...he kind of teleported else where at the moment of death. Pretty cool stuff, but as you said, ultimately, the answers are in each viewers heads.

Unknown said...

i just watched it and new there would be links of fandom about the ending. i personally think that there isn't an answer, but plural meanings. the first thing that came into question as i debated semiotics with myself was that maybe they were in a parallel universe, a (string type) universe and the effect that damaged the earth shifted people on the brink of death to a parallel universe where the effects were catastrophic (that being said there would be a 'string' of alternate outcomes) and they happened to be in the one which the worst effects took place. the other thing i thought about was afterlife, mabye they were stuck inbetween earth and 'divine' paradise. as you know they were all about to die when they woke up without anyone insight. this theory was very difficult to accept though, considering im a passionate atheist, i don't know man. great film regardless of the intended meaning

Franco Macabro said...

All of your theories can be correct John, what the filmmakers did was leave it up to the viewer, I guess it all depends on the person watching.

I like you refuse the idea that its the afterlife they are stuck in, to me the machine wiped out all of humanity, or the three of them were transported to some alternate universe...the ending though makes me think that the main character was simply transported to another planet entirely! That alien landscape is what made me think about that possibility.

Thanks for commenting!

Unknown said...

I really enjoyed the film and from my perspective it seemed to question the nature of seemed to be encouraging us to question the nature of material theories and perhas matter itself. With the ending and Zac's reincarnation or resurrection one could infer that the nature of life must be infinite and of course certainly an enigma. I can't help thinking that perhaps Api and Joanne were some aspect of Zac's thought - perhaps our universe is really an expression of our thought?

Franco Macabro said...

Cool take on the movie Kate, this movie is so open to interpretation, which ultimately is one of the things that makes a movie great.


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