Z for Zachariah, 2015.
Directed by Craig Zobel.
Starring Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine.
In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, two men and a young woman find themselves in an emotionally charged love triangle as the last known survivors.
If you thought you were the last survivor on the planet, how would you react to meeting someone else? Would you suspect their intentions, thank God, welcome them with open arms? How desperate would you be for human connection? These are issues that Z for Zachariah attempts to address but unfortunately only grazes upon and instead favors looking deeper into a forced love triangle. With some great performances, and interesting premise, and tense moments it is a shame that Zachariah can’t shrug off the tired old tropes of what basically becomes a dramatic romance thriller.
Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie plays Ann Burden, a shy farm girl who believes herself to be the last survivor of a world drowning in nuclear radiation. She has not seen a fellow human being in years and with another harsh winter coming quickly, she is not sure she will survive for that much longer either. One day, while out scouting for supplies, she runs across John Loomis played by the fantastic Chiwetel Ejiofor. Loomis runs sick of serious radiation poisoning and is taken in by an ecstatic Ann who is blown away by the sight of another human being. Eventually getting his strength back, Loomis reveals he was once a serious scientist for the government and can use his know-how to help Ann prepare for the upcoming winter. Everything beings working between the pair and they eventually grow to be attracted to each other. But barely a day passes after this development when they are visited by Caleb (Chris Pine). Caleb is a God-fearing man like Ann and immediately takes a liking to her, causing Loomis to erupt in jealousy. The strife shakes the foundation Ann and Loomis spent so long building and as time passes threatens to destroy it completely.
This film has two main personalities. The first, and my personal favorite, focuses on a dark and thrilling character analysis in the three leads. Rather than have the story center around the world that has been devastated, cinematographer Tim Orr makes sure to be minimally invasive with only the most generic wide shots when looking at the environment as opposed to his almost uncomfortable close-ups on some characters that are troubled. The script adaptation of the 1974 novel has been altered in a mostly positive light, focusing on more present day issues including a crisis not only between faith and science but also race and acceptance. When the camera focuses on the obvious moral dilemmas that would come up in an apocalypse (should they just kill themselves, should they try to repopulate the earth, is it worth the effort) the film shines at its brightest and makes for a fascinating watch.
Then comes the second side; my previously complaint about adding in a love triangle. The original novel does not include this plot line and while I stand by my opinion that modernizing the script was a good move, Chris Pine’s addition feels completely out of place. That’s not to rag on his acting ability as he does the best with what he has. However, the material he has to deliver is borderline laughable. There were far too many times where the characters mind sets read, screw the nuclear apocalypse that could kill us any day, let’s focus more on who gets the girl. It’s a shame, because the moments of tension between the uneasy situation they have been put in are palpable, I just wish it was over something necessary like radiation-free water rather than who gets to make out Margot Robbie.
If you can move past the cheesy side plots, then you will enjoy the deep arguments between these two men of science and faith and the one woman who tries to balance them both. A vague open ending will have you second guessing certain character’s motivations and the lengths to which people would go in a world with no order, only survival. Full of beautiful shots, excellent performances, and deep psychological experiences, Z for Zachariah is worth experiencing the apocalypse for.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★