Loosely based on a 1981 novel by Craig Harrison, The Quiet Earth is the story of a man waking up to find that he is the only person left on Earth. Well, that’s what he assumes, because the radio is dead, no-one’s answering any telephones, and there’s nobody to be seen anywhere around the New Zealand city where he lives. Something has happened, and it may have something to do with the strange scientific experiment he and his colleagues were part of at the lab where they worked...
Co-scripted by its star, Bruno Lawrence, the first half of the film is an exploration of what it means to be truly alone and what that can do to a man. Then, as you might guess by the presence of other actors in the film, other people appear and, because we are human beings and therefore a terrible species, things change and not always for the better.
Lawrence is compelling, and as a balding, middle-aged man is a refreshing lead for a movie that, if made in Hollywood now, would star Will Smith, Tom Cruise, or whoever the hot, young, brooding leading man of the hour happens to be. His co-stars are similarly flawed, and the result is a real sense that this could happen to any of us. Of course, at the time it was made, the threat of nuclear destruction was still very real, and although what happens to cause Lawrence’s situation isn’t the result of an escalation of tensions between the superpowers, it’s very easy to see this as an allegory. Indeed, further into the movie, there’s a definite flavour of the creation of the atom bomb, and particularly J Robert Oppenheimer’s guilt at his creation.
It’s no surprise that this remains a cult classic (pop-scientist Neil deGrasse-Tyson describes it as one of his favourite science-fiction films of all time) and although the cars and fashions look dated, the movie has aged very well; Geoff Murphy’s direction is close in feeling and style to the films of contemporary masters Yorgos Lanthimos and Ben Wheatley. The ending may leave you scratching your head, although the commentary from writer-producer Sam Pillsbury is very clear on what happens, and leaves you wistful that there was no sequel. Lawrence died in 1995 but surely it’s not too late?
Special features: Producer's Commentary, Theatrical trailer, Restoration trailer
THE QUIET MAN / CERT: M (AUS) / DIRECTOR: GEOFF MURPHY / SCREENPLAY: BILL BAER, BRUNO LAWRENCE, SAM PILLSBURY / STARRING: BRUNO LAWRENCE, ALISON ROUTLEDGE, PETE SMITH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW