Z for Zachariah

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Apocalyptic themes, murder
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters (race, gender, faith)
Date Released to Theaters: August 28, 2015
Date Released to DVD: October 19, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B014DEGTEO

In 1959, a movie called The World, The Flesh And The Devil imagined a post-apocalyptic world with three surviving humans. In the words of the 1960’s television series, “The Mod Squad,” they could be described as “one black, one white, one blond.” Harry Belafonte, Mel Ferrer, and Inger Stevens played characters who might be the last people on earth but who still carried with them the fears, angers, and prejudices of the civilization now destroyed.

Fifty-five years later, “Z for Zachariah” is another post-apocalyptic story about a black man, a white man, and a beautiful younger woman who may be the only survivors following a catastrophic, toxic event that has poisoned the whole world, except, perhaps, for a tiny, edenic farm that appears to be free from deadly radiation. And once again, human frailty creates conflict at the most fundamental level. The themes of the 1959 film reflected post-WWII concerns like the atomic bomb and racial bigotry.

“Z for Zachariah” is based on the posthumously and pseudonymously published book, though there are significant changes.

Ann (Margo Robbie) lives on her family’s farm. She believes her family will return from their scouting expedition. And she believes that she and her dog and her farm were preserved by God. Periodically, she puts on protective gear to go into the deserted town and scavenge from the shelves of the stores. She grows food on the farm and visits the tiny church her father built to play the organ and worship.

Then John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrives. He is also wearing protective gear (it turns out he was one of the engineers who designed it), but foolishly removes it to bathe in a pond that has been contaminated. Ann rescues him and nurses him through radiation poisoning.

They are very different. John is a man of science and rationality. He sees that he can create hydropower through the waterfall, but only if he can use the wood from the walls of the church. Ann believes the church is what has kept her alive; John believes repurposing the planks will enable them to establish a sustainable source of food for…well, with a man and a woman, perhaps there will be more people to feed at some point. In the old world, they would never have met, and if they had, they would have had little to say to one another. But they understanding, respect, and affection are beginning to grow, and the need for connection and comfort is near desperate in both of them. And then Caleb (Chris Pine) — a character not in the book — arrives. He has something John cannot have, a community and cultural connection to Ann. He is young and handsome.

Like director Craig Zobel’s last film, “Compliance,” this is also a tense story of three people in an enclosed, isolated space finding their most profound values tested. Even in the most extreme circumstances imaginable, humans still struggle with morality, trust, honesty, power, forgiveness, and love. It is deceptively understated and quietly compelling.

Parents should know that this film features a disturbing apocalyptic setting, discussion of cataclysmic events, sexual references and situations with partial nudity, brief strong language, homicide.

Family discussion: What do Ann and John have in common? What do Ann and Caleb have in common? What happened when John and Caleb were together? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” and “On the Beach”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Science-Fiction
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