THE QUIET EARTH
New Zealand, 1985
Running Length: 91 minutes
Cast: Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, Pete Smith, Anzac Wallace, Norman Fletcher
Director: Geoff Murphy
Screenplay: Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence & Sam Pillsbury from the novel by Craig Harrison
Cinematography: James Bartle
Here’s one from the way, way back... A New Zealand film I remember seeing when I was probably no more than 12. Yet I remember it. Probably because it’s an absolute knock-out performance by Bruno Lawrence.
The film opens with Bruno, as Zac Hobson, waking up with one hell of a hangover. It comes to light that he’d actually been trying to commit suicide, and what he’s waking up from is an overdose of pills, not a hard night on the town. He’s not entirely with it, so it takes a while for him to realize that he is all alone in the world. There are no people or even animals around.
It’s not until he arrives at the laboratory where he works and finds the dead body of his project director that the truth begins to sink in. He uses a dictaphone to announce his discovery: a malfunction in the project he was working on has resulted in a massive electrical wave that has either killed the entire population of earth or thrown them into another dimension.
Zac realizes he is alone.
The first half of the film explores Zac’s solitude and the way it drives him slowly mad - he winds up in a pink petticoat running around a football field. Once other people show up (it turns out that if you were dying at the moment the pulse hit, you survived), they try to overcome their myriad differences to work together. Zac’s scientific mind figures out that the pulse that destroyed the world may happen again soon, and if they manage to destroy the equipment in the lab, they may be able to save what’s left of the earth.
There are many flaws to this film. Firstly, the most interesting parts of the film are the ones where Lawrence thinks he’s alone in the world. His portrayal of a man alone, with no one watching, is unique and fascinating to watch. Once the other people show up (and why, given so many people die every minute, are there only two?) the story becomes much more predictable.
Until the ending. I won’t give it away, but I think the ending is why this story has stuck with me for almost 30 years. It may be hard to find, but if you can, I urge you to seek out a copy of The Quiet Earth and give it whirl. The effects will look terrible by today’s standards, but good acting is just good acting.