The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

You’re the only one left on Earth – what do you do?

with 18 comments

Sense of wonder. It’s such a beautiful phrase.

Do you remember the sensation of it?  Do you remember the sweet taste of the moment when all your illusions suddenly are turned upside down and a truth that you couldn’t have imagined dawns upon you? Do you remember the surge in the stomach, like a rollercoaster taking a quick dive, your mind reaching for the stars, and for one brief second you’re feeling as if you’re weightless, independent of the small and futile restrictions of time and space.

Sadly enough it’s a state of mind that I enter more and more rarely nowadays. As I’ve grown older, those dwindling moments have become few and far between. I think the more experienced we get, the more stories and ideas we meet over the years, the harder is it to trick us or make an impression. We become cynics and “sense of wonder” is – mostly – just a fond memory.

One writer who gave me many experiences of sense of wonder back in the days was Fredric Brown, a master at the genre of very short science fiction stories. I used to love his punch lines before I turned old and jaded. The shortest one he wrote is titled “The Shortest Horror Story”. It goes like this:

 “The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door…”

This story used to give me chills and I came to think of it as I recently watched The Quiet Earth.

Descent into madness
This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie from New Zealand where we get to follow a man who one day wakes up finding the world he lives in all deserted. It appears as if everyone else not only has died; they’ve disappeared as well. He’s all on his own.

What do you do in such a situation? How would you react? I can imagine I’d do pretty much the same thing as Zac does. First there’s the curiosity, the efforts to find out what has happened. Then there’s a time where he enjoys the freebies, the access to free champagne and other luxuries that gives him comfort. But as time goes by and he doesn’t get any replies to the messages he’s sent out, he’s starting to descend into madness. Until….

Well, I suppose I’ll arrest myself there in order not to spoil anything. While it’s not quite as twisty as a classic Fredric Brown story, you’re better off not knowing too much about it.

Obviously the movie is a little bit dated in the terms of technology. You see it everywhere. The computers are ancient, the telephones are clumsy and his alarm clock looks exactly like the one in Groundhog Day, putting a very distinct time mark. But if you disregard of that, you’ll find a very enjoyable little science fiction movie that I think holds up pretty well.

Based on a tourist experience
I especially liked the first half where we follow Zac’s explorations of the deserted world. It looks quite convincing considering the low budget they probably worked with. Perhaps they didn’t have to alter reality all that much to make it look post-apocalyptic, at least if we’re too believe IMDb:

“The Quiet Earth is actually based the one experience of an American tourist in New Zealand in the 1970s. New Zealanders always take the weekends off and sleep late. The tourist arrived in the center of Auckland on a Sunday morning and found it completely deserted. He later said he felt like the last man on Earth.”

Remembering what weekends looked like when I visited New Zealand in the 80s I can actually vividly imagine that this was the source of inspiration.

I also loved the focus on atmosphere and human behaviour rather than on action and cheap thrills. There is certainly an element of techno-babble (no science fiction is complete without it!), but you don’t need to understand it to enjoy the film.

Like most science fiction stories it has a great ending with a beautiful final shot, so impressive and memorable that this alone justifies watching the move. As I saw it I felt the tickling in the stomach, still familiar after all those years. It was quite discrete, more quiet than sensational and there was only a mouthful of it, so it didn’t last for long. But there was no mistake about what it was.

The sense of wonder.

The Quiet Earth (Geoff Murphy, NZ, 1985) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 22, 2012 at 1:00 am

18 Responses

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  1. I really, really liked this film a lot. I didn’t expect anything going in, but I found it absolutely captivating. The descent into madness is my favorite part of this film, too. When he’s addressing his “people” from his balcony…there’s such a sense of realism–that that’s how someone would act–that I buy into the premise completely.

    SJHoneywell

    February 22, 2012 at 1:25 am

    • Oh yes, I loved that speech! It feels like one of those scenes that will become a classic and stick to your memory.

      Jessica

      February 22, 2012 at 7:39 am

  2. One of the things that I love about social media is the ability to learn things from a variety of different places, and that’s exactly what has just happened.

    I had never heard of ‘The Quiet Earth’ and whilst I am somewhat familiar with films of a similar theme I am just stunned and amazed that I hadn’t heard of a Kiwi movie about it! I am sold and have now added it to my To Watch List.

    Thanks for the review Jessica, it was a great read.

    Russell_Oz

    February 22, 2012 at 3:26 am

    • Thanks for stopping by! I just discovered your blog. What a wonderful place! Just the kind of reviews I like. I hope you’ll enjoy this movie as much as I did.

      Jessica

      February 22, 2012 at 7:40 am

  3. I hadn’t hear of this one, but it sounds right up my alley… Really interested to see what happens after you stopped the plot, but I think I’ll wait and let the wonder wash over me if I can track this one down. Thanks for pointing me towards it!

    NeverTooEarlyMP

    February 22, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    • I try to be reasonably careful not to give away too much about the movies. If you’re curious you can always check IMDb, where you’ll get more. But I recommend you to watch it instead. It’s not every day you watch a NZ movie, so why not take the chance?

      Jessica

      February 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm

  4. This does indeed very very interesting. Will have to see if I can’t get around to see it at some point. Must resist looking it up….

    🙂

    Lewis Maskell

    February 22, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    • It’s a beautiful little sci-fi movie which reminds me a little of Silent Running in the style and atmosphere. More calm than intense, but yet somehow captivating. I hope you can find it. I stumbled upon it at my library and remembered that I had had it recommended to me.

      Jessica

      February 22, 2012 at 2:07 pm

  5. I was quite taken by this film as well. Despite the sci-fi elements, it never loses the human element and delves deeply into all kinds of themes surrounding it. This makes the film hold up really well, even if, as you point out, the settings and technology dates it superficially. Very cool movie, and a very good review. 🙂

    Emil

    February 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    • Thanks Emil! As you I think the dated technology really is a minor issue. The concept of the idea to to be the only one left on Earth is one that never gets old. It tickles your imagination.

      Jessica

      February 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm

  6. This is not one of my favourite NZ films (I think Bruno Lawrence was much better in 1982’s SMASH PALACE) but it is a good one. There were some great NZ movies released in the 80s.

    Tyler

    February 27, 2012 at 12:09 am

    • I’m really not familliar with NZ film. But this one I liked. I’m such a sci-fi fan you know.

      Jessica

      February 27, 2012 at 7:00 am

  7. Looks like a movie that I might enjoy.

    It reminds me of the book “I am Legend”. It’s a really good book about someone who’s left all alone with nothing but vampires in his neighborhood and his dog. It’s really a book about dealing with loneliness wrapped with a SF layer.

    It was made into a movie a few years ago which was fairly good but replaced the more psychological issues with bam bam action scenes.

    Carra

    March 13, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    • I haven’t seen that one but I’ve seen it mentioned in relation to this one. I think they may have been inspried by a common source – a book if I remember it correctly.

      Jessica

      March 14, 2012 at 9:19 am

      • Just saw it, was also in my book of “1001 movies you must see before you die”. And it’s 90 minutes well spent.

        I liked the symmetry of the start/end and it’s quite open ended. Some interesting theories on the net. Maybe he’s in purgatory and can finally go to heaven? Or he dies again, another magical event happens and it all starts again?

        Carra

        May 2, 2012 at 11:20 pm

        • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m not quite sure of what happened there. But I really dug the final shot! You don’t need to understand everything after all.

          Jessica

          May 3, 2012 at 12:38 am

          • It’s a pretty shot, just like the opening shot.

            And I’ve got a weakness for science fiction…

            Carra

            May 3, 2012 at 10:13 pm


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