Film Reviews:

The Quiet Earth

(Geoff Murphy, NZ, 1985)

A single, middle aged businessman who works for the New Zealand defence research division of a large multi-national company, wakes one morning to find he has survived a nuclear disaster. He attempts to communicate with other survivors, but in failing to do so he fears that he may be the only human alive. He travels to his place of work only to discover that the nuclear company he works for caused the devastation when it's top-secret Operation Flashlight - a nuclear defence development programme - malfunctioned. He tries to come to terms with his situation but before long he begins to breakdown, considering suicide. He then meets up with another survivor - a young woman - and this new companion gives him hope that there may be more alive. The two agree to travel across the country trying to find others.

This little-known New Zealand film from 1985 has cropped up on British television a couple of times in recent years yet fails to feature in many genre books. Surprising, because it is an intelligent, clever and well-made production that deserves a wider audience than it already has. Those who may have seen the American film Night of The Comet will have something to compare this too since there are many similarities between them. However, where that film used humour to lighten the subject matter, director Geoff Murphy here chooses to concentrate not just on the practicalities of living without energy but looks deeply into the psychological implications of such a traumatic experience. As the lead starts to loose it he begins to have delusions of grandeur, even going so far as giving speeches to a captive, cardboard cut-out audience from the balcony of his vast, new mansion home.

In the most memorable sequence, at the height of his instability, the man enters a church, shotgun in hand, dressed only in a woman's frock and demands to see God. Pointing the gun at a statue of the crucifixion he calls out; "If you don't come out, I'll shoot the kid." When God fails to appear he blasts the statue to pieces in a dramatic, slow motion frenzy. As the camera closes in the face of Jesus he mutters "And now, I am God." Apart from the above mentioned film and a sequence similar to one seen in Escape From New York, where barricaded streets force the man and his companion to drive down one way only to be ambushed, The Quiet Earth has that fresh, otherworldly ambience that much modern New Zealand cinema has. By the time a third member joins the party, even the politically correct (if unlikely perfect) combination of a middle aged white man, a young white female and a Maori in his thirties, is handled with subtlety and never threatens to overshadow the gripping storyline.

Rob Dyer