After The Dark (also known as The Philosophers) is a sci-fi thriller film directed by John Huddles and released on July 7, 2013.
Its Framing Story depicts a class of philosophy students on their final day at an international high school. Their teacher, Eric Zimit, assigns them a thought experiment, the exploration of which forms the movie's main plot.
It posits that an atomic apocalypse is approaching, and there's a safety bunker that can support exactly ten people for a year- long enough to escape the disaster. Handing out cards with a different job written on each one, Zimit challenges his students to decides who lives and who dies. When the protagonist, Petra, tries to leave, Zimit forces her to stay by threatening to drop her boyfriend's grade (as Petra does not care about her own).
A battle of wits begins between Zimit and the class...
Note: After certain reveals that occur in the finale, the movie's context is deeply changed. As a result, there will be spoilers below.
This film provides examples of:
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: In real life, there are several institutions that would frown upon a high school teacher committing academic extortion (as Zimit does in the opening). Why isn't this acknowledged? Because then there'd be no plot, that's why.
- After the End: After a world-altering atomic apocalypse, to be more specific; although the students do most of their surviving in a bunker with everything laid out for them.
- Ambiguous Ending: In regards to Zimit at least: Petra comforts him about their breakup and thanks him for being a good teacher and it seems like there's still hope for him, but then he goes up to his home and contemplates shooting himself. We never see if he does it or not.
- Apocalypse How: The apocalypse in the thought experiment is atomic in nature, with a Planetary scope note and a Societal Collapse-level severity.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Petra gives one to Zimit near the end:Petra: Being smart isn't everything. Has it done for you just what you hoped?
- Attempted Rape: Zimit tries to force himself on Bonnie in the second scenario. Jack saves her, but loses the bunker.
- Bad Ending: Every iteration but the last ends with everyone dead. Even so, there are some students who want to try again.
- Batman Grabs a Gun: In the final iteration, Zimit tries to hold the students at gunpoint for a spot in the bunker, only for James to point a machine gun right back. When Zimit says he's bluffing and that he won't shoot since because he's a pacifist, James cocks it and says that he'll make an exception.
- Birds of a Feather: Petra and Zimit are both gifted intellectuals with a talent for manipulating people- and because of this, they are attracted to each other. This is why Zimit is unable to understand her motivations for breaking up with him.
- Book Dumb: James is not as academically gifted as the rest of the students, which is why Zimit looks down on him.
- Book-Ends: The first "useless" candidate for the bunkers, the poet, is shot in the head by Zimit in the first thought experiement. By the end, when he threatens to shoot James and Petra, all of the bunker survivors line up in their defense, and at the very end, right in front of Zimit, is the poet again.
- Cold Equation: There are twenty-one of you, but the bunker can only fit 10. Who do you let in based on how useful their skillsets are for survival, and who do you leave to die a death by radiation?
- Closet Key: Could also be a Coming-Out Story when Parker comes out so Jack won't be the only gay man in the third scenario.
- A Degree in Useless: Students who specialize in music, literature, and other liberal arts are deemed less unfit for survival compared to the students who specialize in STEM. Until the third iteration, where Petra specifically chooses those who weren't selected for the other runs and points out their short lives were filled with fun and creativity.
- Dirty Coward: Zimit could have just asked Petra "Why did you choose James over me?" instead of disguising the question as a pointlessly hurtful show of dominance. It's implied that he didn't ask her directly because he was afraid she might be right to have done so.
- Driven to Suicide: Zimit certainly considers this, but we don't find out if he actually does it or not.
- Easily Forgiven: Even when it comes out that Zimit set the whole experiment up essentially for the purpose of humiliating James and satisfying his own ego, Petra doesn't show any signs of holding it against him. In fact, she actually lets him down rather easily and even tells him he's "a good teacher" at the end.
- Emotions vs. Stoicism: Zimit (logic) vs. Petra and the rest of the class (emotions). Zimit looks down on those assigned A Degree in Useless and uses his "logic" to mentally torment the kids.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Zimit seems genuinely confused as to why Petra, intelligent as she is, would choose to act on anything other than pure logic. Hence his failure to understand why she would choose to be with James rather than him. He also seems to have trouble grasping that she didn't mean it as a criticism of him. He also doesn't understand the concept of equality between people. Petra's actions in the third scenario are a concerted effort to teach him humility.
- Evil Counterpart: Zimit is Petra's.
- Fatal Flaw: For Petra, it's her tendency to act on emotion rather than think things through. This is best seen in the first scenario, when her ploy to exclude Zimit from the bunker (because she was horrified by him shooting the students who'd been voted out) results in the remaining survivors dying when they run out of food and oxygen. For Zimit, it's his ego and his inability to grasp that intelligence isn't the only valuable quality that a person can have.
- Fly Or Die: Zimit calls this trope out by name at the beginning of the film.
- Foreshadowing: The thought experiments mentioned at the beginning all inform later actions. The Ignorance Bliss experiment represents Petra finding out about James' irrational fears and actions, the Train dilemma is the choice of shooting or leaving out certain people, the Infinite Monkeys experiment is Chips with the girls on his island, the Cave is Zimit finding out how Petra really feels.
- Heroic Sacrifice: In the third scenario, Petra demands that someone else take her spot in the shelter."I didn't ask to lead so I could save myself."
- Hypocrite: Zimit spends the entire movie justifying his callousness with logic and mocking the other students for their emotional reactions to the experiment, yet he initiated the experiment solely because of a childish need to prove himself superior to James. This is lampshaded by Petra.
- Ironic Echo: "Better three hours too early than one minute too late." First said when James is late to class, then to Zimit when he's at the bunker in the first scenario.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Zimit spends most of the movie being an bona fide prick, but he is correct when he points out that the students could have avoided the mass death suffered in the first scenario if they had not acted rashly based on their emotional response to him executing the students who were voted out.
- Love Triangle: James, Petra, and Zimit, who she had an affair with. James never realizes it.
- Mercy Kill: How Zimit justifies shooting the students who weren't selected in the first iteration; it was that or die a slow death by radiation.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Petra makes James trick Zimit into staying out of the bunker in the first scenario, but this leads to everyone dying horribly due to Zimit having the exit codes. Arguably this is the worst scenario.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: If Zimit had just accepted his breakup with Petra, he could have walked away with nothing but bruised pride. Instead, he tries to fight her decision and ends up even more broken than before, knowing that the egotism he justifies his entire life by has been decisively shattered and that Petra will live a happy, fulfilling life without him.
- No Party Like a Donner Party: In the first iteration, where Andy succumbs to a brain aneurysm and the others eat him to survive.
- Platonic Cave: Discussed. Zimit compares James to the observer-of-shadows, as a way of insulting James' intelligence. The ending depicts Zimit as equally blind, because his egoistical disdain for emotions means he cannot understand James and Petra's love- or the reason why it angers him so much.
- Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies: How Zimit reacts when the students react in ways he disapproves of to the rules he sets — he sets up a scenario where all of them die.
- Romanticism vs. Enlightenment: The third scenario pits the students' idea that it is better to live short lives filled with aesthetic beauty than the teacher's suggestion that it is best to live long lives trying to use practical skills to survive efficiently.
- Rule of Three: The simulation is run thrice, with the students drastically changing the rules in the third.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Petra sees what Zimit is trying to do to her and tries to leave the classroom early. Zimit stops her by threatening to drop James' grade.
- Straw Vulcan: Zimit proclaims himself a logician, and uses his twisted, sadistic 'logic' to browbeat his students into compliance.
- Sympathy for the Devil: It's pretty clear at the end that, in spite of everything, Petra still cares for Zimit and holds him in high regard as a teacher. She even tries to make him feel better about their breakup, telling him that it wasn't meant to take anything away from him as a person.
- The Stoic: Petra shows scarcely any emotion throughout the entire movie. Depending on your interpretation of her character, this is either an expression of her disdain for Zimit's cruelty, or one hell of an emotional façade.
- Teacher/Student Romance: When Kavi pairs off the survivors in the second scenario (with the specific goal of at least one girl conceiving), Petra ends up paired with Zimit. Zimit and Petra had one in real life, but she broke it off. Zimit took it personally and used the exercise as retaliation.
- Trailers Always Lie: The film's advertising portrayed it as a post-apocalyptic thriller, placing emphasis on the bunker scenarios. The actual movie focuses on Petra and Zimit's debate about elitism and jealousy, which is reflected through their manipulation of the students. The scenarios are only vehicles for their respective arguments.
- Undying Loyalty: James to Petra. Even in the experiment's second iteration- where he's assigned the detail of being gay- he insists that he still loves her emotionally.
- Villainous BSoD: As Petra continually disproves Zimit's philosophy, showing that traits other than pure intelligence are important, he becomes more and more disillusioned.
- Wise Beyond Her Years: Petra. This is what attracted Zimit to her as a romantic partner.
- Worthy Opponent: This trope drives Zimit's conflict with Petra- he wants to hurt her for leaving him, but he also wants her validation, because he considers her an intellectual equal.