I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

“Not if You Were the Last Man on Earth"

by Ryk McIntyre
Nov. 9, 2013
So, ask yourself... what would you do if you were the last boring man on Earth? Or maybe this movie should’ve been tagged “Awkward in Aukland.”

This Quiet Earth is a 1985 New Zealand movie, based on the same titled novel, written by Craig Harrison. It concerns the lives of a few people that have seemed to survive an event (called “The Effect” by the main character) that followed something called “Project Flashlight.” Our main character, Zac Hobson (played by Bruno Lawrence) is a scientist who apparently wakes up to a completely empty world. Puzzled by a radio that picks up nothing, Zac drives into an equally desolate city where, it seems, everyone has vanished. Even crashed cars and plains have no traces of bodies in them. When he finally reaches the lab where he works, he discovers that “Project Flashlight” has been activated.

Borrowing from such stories as I Am Legend, Zac immediately goes on a looney binge, collecting every material thing he’s ever wanted (including a stuffed Emu, apparently), takes up residence in a loverly house and indulges himself in all sorts of earthly pleasures. Then, predictably, he goes crazy and delivers a speech of confession to a large crowd of cardboards cut-outs (all big names; we have Bob Marley, Adolf Hitler, Pope John Paul II, Alfred Hitchcock) about how he had allowed his scientific brilliance to be mal-used by powerful people “in the common good.”  This rampage includes shooting up a church while proclaiming himself God and a lot of other assorted property destruction. During this sequence, he runs over a baby carriage and, upon finding it empty as everything else, he decides to put a shotgun in his mouth.  However, a bigger explosion makes him decide to live instead, and in the next scene, he’s leaping about in the surf somewhere, good as new... kinda.
About halfway through the film he encounters another living human. However the girl doesn’t seem to want to be romantic with him, even if he is the last man on earth (sorry... had to go there). And actually, he’s not, as they encounter another man. A semi-realized love triangle develops, but more importantly, they all decide that the lab where Zac worked must worked must be destroyed. A remote controlled truck full of explosives later... well, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out how this all resolves itself, now won’t you?
The strength of this movie -- made, as it was, before the advent of really cool CGI (or really, almost ANY CGI) -- is in its tone, its subtle use of a completely empty world to really drive home the combination of panic and ennui that such a place would cause in a human. My God, there’s not even the obligatory mad-soldier/despot character, or slavering horde of cannibal-mutants that most films of this genre seem to depend on. And a lot of the back story is never explained, just as if one were dropped into this world all at once. It’s not like exposition would just be hanging around in a conveniently left-on computer screen or dying witness. In fact, we never really learn what “Project Flashlight” was, much less what it was supposed to be. We just see the result.
The one clue to any of it that  the film gives us is that all three main characters were right at the point of dying from various causes, when... whatever happened, happened. In particular, the ambiguous ending serves up a big plate of “Well, what do YOU think it all means?” that has to be picked-up and wrestled with by whoever watches this film. In that sense, this film is a sort of proto- “Lost.” Except, you know.... it doesn’t suck.

Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals.  He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.