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    Z for Zachariah (2015): Movie Review

    “A slow burning yet mystifying psychodrama in a dystopian Garden of Eden.”  

    Two men vie to be the last surviving man on the post-apocalyptic Garden of Eden in Z for Zachariah, a sci-fi-ish psychological coming-of-age thriller by director Craig Zobel. Inspired from a posthumously published 1974 novel by Robert C. O’Brien, this minimalist humanistic drama explores provocative issues referring to race, sex, class and faith, metaphorically depicted through a teenage girl and the two men she finds wandering in her garden.

    Once again, humanity is annihilated by a nuclear warfare. In the aftermaths of this, 19-year-old Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) manages to survive in her secluded sheltered farm on a mountain valley somewhere in southern USA, a piece of land which remains untouched by radioactive contaminants. Left behind by her preacher father and younger brother who have not returned after searching for other survivors, Ann lives an isolated, idyllic life with her Australian shepherd.

    The peace is momentarily disturbed by the appearance of John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an engineer who was developing some kind of a radiation-proof suit during the time of war. After getting ill from dipping into a polluted waterfall, Ann nurses him back to health. John settles in her farm, helping her harvest crops, fish in the pond and even fix a broken generator. But everything changes with the arrival of Caleb (Chris Pine), a former mine worker and an aimless drifter. Soon, a tacit rivalry ensues as they rebuild more things in the farm.

    Like any apocalyptic movies, Z for Zachariah is largely formulaic and predictable. Its plot is not twisty as the film is more character-driven. Though gripping, it is a slow burner as it takes sweet time to build the three characters and for their relationships to bloom. It is mostly confident and commanding. Admirably, it succeeds in convincing audience to invest emotionally on the trio. However, the movie abruptly ends with a contrived and ambiguous climax. With the last few minutes unexplained, it seems that viewers have been cheated as there is little emotional payoff when the credits roll in.

    Its conclusion may be disappointing but the film’s intriguing central premise and underlying subtexts are what carry it the entire time. What can we expect if we put one woman and two men in a diminishing world? A passionate romantic triangle, of course, but the film veers from any obvious expectations. Instead, it sensitively renders the characters, leading to emotional and psychological divide. To think that a thirty-something man will involve himself romantically with a teenage girl gives one chills. But na├»ve and virginal Ann is attracted to John’s creative wisdom and experience, and in fairness, John is too decent not to take advantage of Ann’s vulnerability. They have time, he thinks, until Caleb joins the picture. While John is black, atheist and well-educated, Caleb is white, deeply religious, and blue-collared. Caleb shares the same background as Ann and both have noticeable sparks for one another. But Caleb is respectable as well as he does not go beyond flirtatious glances. So everything is actually up to Ann but the boys suddenly put things into their hands.

    Looking closely, the love story is an allegorical picture of the messages that the film tries to convey. For one, John is hesitant to make any move because admittedly, he has a different skin color. Class-wise, Ann easily identifies herself with bucolic Caleb. But more than race and economic status, the film is a metaphorical conflict between science and religion. While John relied on his invention to survive, Caleb and Ann owed salvation to their faith. A major turning point in the movie is the tearing down of the local church so that the wood can be used to build a hydroelectric wheel. In the final analysis, science may establish a new order but it is spirituality that sacrifices for the greater good. As vaguely as this, the film also touches issues on morality and compromises.

    The three actors splendidly carried out their roles. Pine, dashing and hunky despite the catastrophe, is indeed any guy’s intimidating rival. She may be too beautiful for Ann but Robbie is genuinely evocative. Her commitment is apparent as she gives an insightful and tender portrayal of a woman needing connection. Ejiofor is the film’s life. His voice matches his face as he brings compassion and fears to John.

    Shot in widescreen on New Zealand outback, Z for Zachariah is good-looking and Instagram-worthy. Though mostly inert, it is worthily searing and riveting. The ending may have been rushed but the journey to get there is masterful and well-played out. 

    Production companies: Lionsgate, Grindstone Entertainmen Groupt, Silver Reel 
    Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine 
    Director: Craig Zobel 
    Screenwriter: Nissar Modi 
    Producers: Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Thor Sigurjonsson, Skuli Malmquist, Tobey Maguire, Matthew Plouffe, Sophia Lin 
    Director of Photography: Tim Orr 
    Editor: Jane Rizzo 
    Production designer: Matt Munn 
    Music: Heather McIntosh


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