SOMBER SENDOFFS

Fascination with the apocalypse continues in the movies, the only variable being what form the final doom might take. Here are two very different versions you may have missed.

In 2011’s Perfect Sense, Ewan McGregor and Eva Green play two self-absorbed individuals who find one another as the world about them falls into chaos. One of the more unusual such films, the movie avoids special effects and rational explanation, instead focusing on how its characters respond to their increasing disassociation with the world around them.

Michael (McGregor) is a chef who, at the beginning of the film, sends his current one-night stand packing because, as he tells her, he can’t really sleep with someone else in the bed. Susan (Green), an epidemiologist, walks along a seashore throwing stones at seagulls, her way of coping with another failed love.

Meanwhile, an unnamed narrator describes the larger world backdrop. Without explanation, though officials look desperately for a medical cause, humans begin to lose their physical senses, each new deprivation preceded by an accompanying symptom. A wave of inconsolable grief gives way to a loss of the sense of smell. The disappearance of taste is heralded by a gluttonous binge on anything (and I mean anything) available. And so on.

Interspersed with worldwide footage of the epidemic is the developing story of Michael and Susan, self-avowed “assholes” who discover love in the process of losing everything else. Unlike Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, director David Mackenzie’s film is not a thriller nor is it really science-fiction. At heart, it’s a very unusual love story and perhaps a moral fable or allegory about human relationships, not
unlike Fernando Meirelles’s Blindness (2008).

What makes Perfect Sense palatable (forgive the pun) is the chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Eva Green, two of the most fearless and engaging performers today. They’ve both consistently hit the mark in the widest range of films imaginable – Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen for him; for her, Casino Royale, Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and TV’s Penny Dreadful.

Together, Green and McGregor infuse life and passion in the otherwise quite bleak Perfect Sense.

A very different kind of global fate is envisioned in The Quiet Earth (pictured), a 1985 sci-fi film from New Zealand (the first such effort from that country, two years ahead of Peter Jackson’s debut effort, Bad Taste). A man awakens to discover he’s apparently the only person left on Earth, possibly the result of a scientific experiment coordinated with the United States military.

For the film’s first 45 minutes, Zac (Bruno Lawrence) wanders an empty city and its environs, struggling to cope with his aloneness. Then he meets Joanne (Alison Routledge) and, later, Maori survivor Api (Pete Smith). In a similar vein, the 1959 American film The World, the Flesh, and the Devil posited a post-nuclear New York with only three survivors (Mel Ferrer, Inger Stevens, Harry Belafonte), the sexual/racial angle emerging as a major focus. Neither issue is a central concern in The Quiet Earth.

Absolutely engrossing from start to finish, Quiet Earth slowly reveals what its three survivors have in common and then moves to a stunning conclusion that visually (and thematically) is almost as mind-blowing as the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Director Geoff Murphy had little success outside his native New Zealand, and Lawrence (a marvelous actor, probably best known for earlier films Smash Palace and Utu) died 10 years later, way too young at age 54.

The Quiet Earth, however, is an abiding testament to their considerable talents.

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