quick review - The Quiet Earth

This unassuming New Zealand gem from 1985, vaguely based on a book by Craig Harrison you’re not likely to find, fits neatly into the post-apocalyptic genre without being a shameless progenitor or carrier of infectious genre clichés. A scientist wakes up in bed after a suicide attempt and finds himself alone on a planet in which all human and animal life has disappeared. Has he died? Has everyone else died? And how does the suddenly silenced Earth relate to a government project called Operation Flashlight? As played by Bruno Lawrence and steadily directed by Geoff Murphy, we get a credible and poignant study of a man struggling to fend off mental deterioration while understanding his situation. Complications arise when he comes across two other survivors of “The Effect,” a young woman and a Maori man. Before you can ring the triangle, the drama tenses and the alienating eeriness of the film’s lifeless earth sharpens. And so: no zombies, no monsters, no mutants, no crazy cults or rogue militias. Just three people at the end of world. Best of all, The Quiet Earth can easily boast one of the best what-the-fuck!? endings in film, one that doesn’t leave us feeling violated. Why? Because the film’s protagonist is just as taken aback as we are. Our bafflement is part of the film, and while there’s little information on which to pin anything more than the flimsiest of interpretations, the strange ending feels more like a challenge rather than a cheat. It’s worth noting that the film’s plot differs considerably from the book, as Wikipedia will tell you. I prefer the film.

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