Z for Zachariah is full of several underlying themes. Some smack you on the nose and some are given with a more subtle touch. Gender politics, faith and paranoia among others are all present under the umbrella of this incredible characters study, set in a post apocalyptic world.
Following the events of nuclear fallout, mankind is pretty much wiped out. The only remnant is an earth poisoned by radiation. However, one small area remains unaffected. A valley where Ann (Margot Robbie) has lived since the fallout. Her lonely days consist of working on her land, playing with her dog and being a woman of faith. When she stumbles upon Loomis, (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a survivor that worked in a nearby underground laboratory. The two begin making a life together that flirts with becoming intimate yet they remain friends. When Caleb, (Chris Pine) at third survivor finds his way to the valley he becomes a dangerous third wheel in an already complicated relationship. Emotions are charged as both men become infatuated with Ann.
These performances are all amazing. I could have honestly watched a movie that consisted solely of these three actors sitting around eating bologna sandwiches and being content. Pine brings a hidden intensity to his character, Robbie, brings an adorable, strong and self-capable woman to her role while, Ejiofor went up on my list of favorite actors for his performance here. His character walks the line of the dichotomy of the human condition. His motives are ultimately his own. Wether he is a “good guy” or “bad guy” ultimately becomes a decision for the audience to make. There definitely is no clear-cut answer for this. The complexities are well done and are completely thought provoking.
When I hear that a film is set in a “post apocalyptic world” my mind paints a picture that looks half like the scenery from The Road Warrior and half from The Walking Dead. Brutal, ugly and desolate are key players in creating that world. From the get go Z for Zachariah pulls a fast one by introducing you to a beautiful landscape backdrop. It is an interesting choice that plays into the overlying theme of religion. The valley is very Eden-ish in nature, and the last man and woman on earth certainly lend to that analogy.
Director, Craig Zobel’s previous film, Compliance, had the same careful character study that this one has. His films have feverish dialogue and direction, that feels like it is has one foot in reality and one in fantasy. After I watched Z for Zachariah it became clear that Zobel is a one of those directors that has a personalized stamp. From dialogue alone, I could identify his movies. I am fascinated with his approach to what he brings out in his actors and the feeling that stays with you after seeing his work.
This is one of those films that does not giving you a nice gift wrapped ending. It builds to a boiling point with all the characters and then takes a turn that brings to mind the fact that you never truly know anybody and that we will do what is necessary to create the life we want. Z for Zachariah succeeds on every level that it goes for by staying a small character driven film that feels larger, lived in and all thought out. Everyone involved is at the top of their game here.