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