In the fall of 1985 New Zealand released The Quiet Earth. Another entry in the last man on earth genre created by Sam Pillsbury and Geoff Murphy. Similar to the Zombie genre, this post apocalyptic genre emerged from the nuclear fever of the Cold War. However, instead of focusing on the social dynamics of the survivors, this genre focuses on what one would do after being left behind.
Bruno Lawrence plays our protagonist Zac Hobson, a scientist who is partially responsible for the disappearance of Earth’s population. The reason behind why there are survivors is an interesting similarity towards the Zombie genre. Everyone who had died during the time of the extinction event somehow came back to life. Rather by suicide, murder, or accident each character we meet is in fact the walking dead. Instead of stumbling around looking for flesh, the characters are learning to cope with their isolation and to discover what happened to the planet and if they can stop the effect.
The first act of the movie involves Zac learning to cope being the last man on earth. His isolation begins to take it’s toll on his sanity and leads to some of the most memorable parts of the movie. Bruno Lawrence’s performance makes each scene stick and keeps us captivated despite the lack of dialog and narrative purpose. Act II and III introduces us to two new characters. This writers decide to flesh these acts out with a free love subplot. The free spirited protagonist Joanne consistently bouncing back and forth between the Zac the intellectual and Api the alpha male fighter. This subplot seems to only serve to strengthen our bond and to pose another question polyandry versus monogamy. As we approach the last scenes of the movie, the movie becomes increasingly nihilistic. The last shot becomes one of the most iconic and surreal endings which hasn’t been felt again until perhaps Melancholia.
Despite the awkward pacing and obligatory romance, The Quiet Earth is a cult classic because of some of the twists and themes it explores in the last man on earth genre. It subverts the common idea of the walking dead. More importantly, it explores a cosmic apocalypse and not only does it question the role of a scientist in their society, but also it ponders what their relationship is with the universe.