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Film / The Quiet Earth

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"Zac Hobson, July 5th. One: there has been a malfunction in Project Flashlight with devastating results. Two: it seems I am the only person left on Earth."

The Quiet Earth is a 1985 New Zealand film directed by Geoff Murphy, starring Bruno Lawrence as a scientist who awakens in a hotel room to find himself the last man on Earth. The film was originally based on a novel by Craig Harrison, but bears very little resemblance to the novel's plot.

The Quiet Tropes:

  • Adaptation Name Change: The protagonist's name in the book is John Hobson.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Api turns out to be a murderous psychopath in the original novel, and tries to kill the protagonist.
  • Alien Sky: The final shot of the film shows a ringed planet rising in the horizon, along with giant waterspouts rising up from the ocean. Whether this means Zac was transported to another world, or something transformed the Earth is unclear.
  • All There in the Manual: The official soundtrack title for the music which plays during the ending scene is "Saturn Rising", which answers at least one question about what is going on.
  • Alone in a Crowd: Turns into this for Zac, when the other two begin to grow closer to each other and exclude him (at least from his point of view).
  • The Aloner: All of the protagonists qualify, at some point or another.
  • Ambiguous Ending: It's unclear if Zac managed to successfully stop the Effect at the cost of transporting him to an even more alien world, or if he simply failed and was spared by being near-death as the second Effect activated.
  • Apocalypse How: Very close to a Planetary Total Extinction, although a very tiny fraction of humans and other beasts manage to survive; vegetation is left largely untouched. Since the extinction event is apparently a cyclical event that will happen over and over again, eventually the world will be completely empty, theoretically making it a true Planetary Total Extinction after enough repetitions.
  • Badass Driver: Zac, Api and especially Joanne have their moments.
  • Big Fancy House: Zac lives in one for a while, once he realizes it's time to "move up in the world."
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a slow shot of a sunrise. The film ends with, well, a planetrise — yeah, that enormous ringed world on the cover finally makes its appearance in the film's closing shot.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Zac uses a remote-control system to control a lawnmower at one point in the film. At the end, he suggests using it to deliver a truck full of explosives to a site. Ultimately subverted, however; Zac ends up delivering the payload himself.
  • Conflict Ball: Api's apparently holding this when he tells Joanne why he and his best mate had been fighting. The way he phrases it seems to be meant only to cause a conflict between himself and Joanne and prompt a fight that Zac unwittingly is pulled into. If he'd told the whole truth, all of that could've been avoided.
  • Cool Car: Quite a few. There's the Corvette C2 Stingray convertible and the modified Holden Torana driven by Joanne, the Dodge WC 51 and the Kenworth T-800 driven by Api and later Zac. There's also the Holden Kingswood Ute driven by Zac in the mall. Let's not forget Zac's white 1985 Toyota Hilux Crewcab 4x4 with heavy-duty steel wheels, off-road tires and Lucas driving lights. From the commentary track itself:
    Geoff Murphy: "We pulled a real beauty off there. We got two of these things, given to us for the duration of the movie by Toyota. They were the latest model, 4-wheel drive, double cab pick-ups, and are used to this day in Asia and the Australian outback and New Zealand for going into really rugged out-of the-way places. They're very durable, long-lasting. And mostly looking much more battered than that right now."
  • Cosy Catastrophe: At first Zac has a relatively easy time coping with the end of the world - drinking champagne in a huge mansion, filled with paintings and other finery that he collected himself.
  • Cover Drop: The picture on the front of the box? It's not just artwork; it's the ending of the film. Whether or not this spoils the ending is up to the viewer - the scene really has no bearing on the plot.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Api has the look down but personality-wise he averts this.
  • Death of a Child: Zac finds a dead baby lying on the street, apparently having died of starvation, heatstroke or some health complication with no one to take care of it and given that the baby had ended up there in the first place, this was subverted twice.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The entire premise of the film.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Crossed by Zac early on, and in a big way. He recovers, at least temporarily, but it's a close thing.
    Zac: I've been condemned to live.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Subverted after Zac's rampage, when he attempts to eat his shotgun but doesn't go through with it, and instead manages to pull himself together.
    • Played straight later in the film, when we learn that the only reason Zac is still alive is because he never expected to wake up in that hotel.
    • Played straight again by Zac's attempt at a Heroic Suicide in the ending. But he fails, and is left alone. Again.
  • Drives Like Crazy: The case can be made for all three though Zac does stand out.
  • Fate Worse than Death: "I've been condemned to live..."
  • Gainax Ending: See Alien Sky. Beautiful shot, but what the hell's going on? What happened to Joanne and Api?
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: Zac. Which makes the ending a true Fridge Horror, since he's not only isolated from other people now but also from his own planet and possibly dimension. Alternatively, the Universe might have been changed in such a fundamental way that it's actually Earth which is now a moon of Saturn. In a way, that's even scarier.
  • Good-Times Montage: Zac gets one early on, as he enjoys all of the pleasures that the empty world has to offer, including playing with both train sets and real trains and driving a new car through a shopping mall, and decorating a mansion with as many pieces of fine and expensive art that he can find. It gets worse, though, as the emptiness of it all and his own guilt over causing it starts getting to him.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: As mentioned in the description, the film has very little to do with the book it is based on. For starters, the book implies that the protagonist is trapped in an eternal loop as punishment after he let his son drown, which he states as being his "external suicide". He will always wake up at 6:12 in his apartment, live for three weeks, then commit suicide, which will restart the cycle. The film acts as if everything is real and Zac, Joanne, and Api are really the only humans left on Earth.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Zac's rampage once he snaps involves him threatening a life-sized crucifix with a shotgun as he rails at God, then destroying buildings with construction vehicles.
  • Irony: Zac is doomed to always be isolated from the human race.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: Zac spends most of the first act looking for people, then becoming increasingly unhinged as he figures out that he was the only survivor of Project Flashlight. Then Joanne and Api appear.
  • Love Triangle: Between Api, Joanne and Zac. They are the only known people left on Earth, so it's not surprising.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Zac in the beginning while committing suicide, something the audience doesn't learn til later in the film.
  • Mind Screw: The ending in spades. Ranks up there with that Aussie film, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • Minimalist Cast: The credits list a whopping six actors for the entire movie. Half of those only appear in brief flashbacks or recordings.
  • My Greatest Failure: Zac feels responsible for the results of Project Flashlight, because he didn't challenge data that he felt was incomplete and chose to try to kill himself instead. It's unclear whether or not he could have made a difference if he had spoken up. Still, he spends much of the second half of the film trying to track the effect and find a way to prevent a second one.
  • Naked Apron: When Joanne serves Zac in the hotel.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The female survivor has no name in the book. Here, she's called Joanne.
  • New Era Speech: A passionate and teary example is made by Zac Hobson - resplendent in his chemise - from the balcony of his new mansion to an audience of cardboard cutouts and a combined background music/applause track.
  • No Name Given: Only Zac Hobson is given a surname. There are a handful of other named characters (Joanne and Api, as well as a corpse named Perrin that Zac holds a brief, one-sided conversation with) whose last names are never given in the film.
  • Rage Against the Heavens:
    • Zac bursts into a church screaming, "If you don't come out, I'll shoot the kid!" The kid being a life-sized crucifix.
    • And he does shoot the kid, and after destroying a malfunctioning organ that keeps playing notes as he stands there, he declares that he has killed God and taken his place.
  • Red Herring: The film sets up for a similar plot to The World, the Flesh and the Devil (in which two men fight over the affections of the last living woman), but the romance between Joanne and Api is allowed unabated.
  • Reset Button: Zac does his Heroic Sacrifice thinking there's a chance everything will be returned to normal and the population restored from whatever dimension they might or might not have been sent to. The film never says whether it worked or not, but the chances don't look good.
  • Sanity Slippage: The first third of the film shows Zac's slow descent into madness.
  • Scary Black Man: Api initially comes across as one but it's quickly subverted.
  • Scenery Gorn: There are quite a few scenes of the destruction that would be caused by the disappearance of mankind as well, including an airplane crash.
  • Scenery Porn: The countryside is almost a character in itself.
  • Shown Their Work: Noted astronomer Neil de Grasse Tyson cites this film as one of his favourite ever, due to the scientific accuracy. He even dissected the film's scientific aspects in detail, which was included in a DVD reissue.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: Zac Hobson, a scientist who was working on Project Flashlight. A malfunction caused almost everyone on Earth to simply disappear. He goes a little crazy in the first part of the movie, but after meeting two other survivors he tries to destroy the laboratory where the experiment took place so it can't happen again.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Api and Joanne (or her equivalent) both die in the novel.
  • Spoiler Cover: The theatrical poster and home media cover both show the literal final shot of the movie.
  • Survivor's Guilt: Zac gets this in spades. Api and Joanne as well, although not nearly as much.
  • Title Drop: During Zac's crazed speech at the cutouts of political figures.
  • Token Minority: Considering the film's premise, Api may well be the only Maori (or non-white person period, for that matter) left in the world. Not that there's much sense to speak of any minorities in a world of three, of course.


Video Example(s):


The Quiet Earth

Following an apocalypse, Zac Hobson decides to enjoy everything the abandoned world has to offer and goes on a shopping spree.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / GoodTimesMontage

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