My bet is that 99% of you will be coming to this post to figure out what the heck happened at the end and why did it go down the way it did. Once it gets to Netflix you probably just turned it off and immediately flipped open Google and said – “GOOGLE! EXPLAIN WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED?!” Or something like that. I will get to that, but as the movie has only just hit the theaters I’m going to first encourage people who haven’t seen it yet to see it… so that we can discuss the ins and outs of the movie together. So yeah, stay with me, and we will get to that explanation of Z for Zachariah that you are so desperate for. Be patient.
Z for Zachariah Overview
Apparently Z for Zachariah had a very good Sundance run. The critics adored the movie and gave it tons of really glowing reviews.
And since Sundance, the movie reviewing world has just adored this little film and its nuanced acting, and its really contemplative aesthetic. But since Z for Zachariah has hit the public though, a weird thing happened – there was a pretty big disparity between the Rotten Tomatoes score that the critics are awarding it and what the public is giving it. 79% verses 57% last I checked. Why the enormous difference? I’ll tell you why, its because the movie is a head-job, slow boil, and the public doesn’t get it, that’s why. But first, what is it?
Z for Zachariah Overview
The location that Zachariah is set in is the south, maybe somewhere along the Appalachian Mountains maybe? But it’s in the hollows of the mountains that our movie is set, and it is against the protective cleft of these mountains that the last of humanity possibly has been protected. Something happened in the world to kill anything and everything. There is some sort of toxic dust that will make you very sick if you interact with it, and all water that comes from outside the valley will kill you pretty quickly.
Ann Burden (Margot Robbie – who has had her hand in a couple really fantastic movies; Wolf of Wall Street, Focus, and About Time. But it will be her next couple movies that will really establish her in the mind of movie goers – with Tarzan and Suicide Squad (in which she will play Harley Quinn) and I predict Suicide Squad will take down Batman v. Superman at the Box Office. I know, bold words.) has been left behind by her family (including her father, who was the pastor of the community, and her brother who may have ties to Zachariah) and are now presumed dead. Ann had been watching the calendar and had been expecting them to return, but she has long since stopped. And her hope has run out. In her mind, she is that last person on the planet.
But then everything in the movie changes when Ann sees someone walking through the valley in a funny looking space-suit get-up thing. When the intruder takes off the suit and begins bathing in a stream that is fed from outside the valley, Ann realizes she needs to act to save his life. From then on Ann spends her time farming, milking the cows, and nursing Mr. Loomis (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) back to life.
The tension of the movie is now palpable for obvious reasons. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that this Godly woman, Ann, who only wants His will to be done in her life, realizes that its probably her duty to have a child with Mr. Loomis. Right? I mean, what would you think if you were the last woman on earth. Never mind the fact that Mr. Loomis is an older black male. Never mind the fact that the two of you are absolutely nothing alike in any respect. The bottom line is that the world’s human population will end with you unless you have a child.
Oh and by the way, none of this is said outright. It’s just obvious because the acting is that good. The sexual tension is inadvertently as thick as concrete, and yet nothing is being said. The eyes, the looks, the pauses all carry the weight of the situation. The words are only talking about possibly creating a way to charge the generator via a waterfall a ways away. But its the acting that carries the gorgeous subtext.
Oh, and then, on top of this sexual tension, comes a new visitor – a miner – that is played by Chris Pine – named Caleb. Please don’t miss the fact that Caleb is young. Or that he is also a Godly man from a family of church goers. Please don’t also miss the fact… that they are both white. Because it will be based upon these not unsubtle observations that the entire movie will become completely destabilized.
Z for Zachariah – The Book
I’m going to now start diving into a few spoilers here as we discuss the book. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’d highly recommend watching it before continuing. Immediately after watching the movie I had to read the book. Like, that same night. And I was really amazed that this book was out there because I’d never heard of it. But I was immediately struck by a number of extreme diversions in the book from the movie (or more appropriately, in the movie from the book, or whatever).
The first – and probably the biggest – was that there are two people in the book, and there are three in the movie. I mean, this is not insignificant. An actor increase of 50% in any other movie’s actor budget would break the bank.
And I was also amazed to see that Loomis and Ann had a completely different relationship in the book. It came across as more of a thriller/horror feel to it because Mr. Loomis was quasi-evil. This first comes out when we find out that he shot another scientist that wanted to use the radiation suit to check on his family. We learn this during his state of delirium while recovering from radiation sickness. And it only goes downhill from there. After recovering Mr. Loomis starts telling Ann how to plant her crops and manage her farm. Granted, he’s a scientist, but come on dude! She’s been manning the farm successfully without you!
Better yet? One night Loomis tries to rape Ann. Ann beats him off of her and then runs away. But she comes back the next day and starts working again on the farm. But she keeps her distance from Loomis. I mean, they are the last people alive. But then Mr. Loomis takes the gas from the tractor and ultimately shoots her in the ankle when he was trying to get her to stay in the house. Ann then decides to steal the radiation suit and all of Loomis’ stuff and leave. Loomis chases her to the edge of the hot zone and she escapes into the radiation… drop the curtain, queue the lights, according to the book.
Where the movie goes all sideways from the book is that there is no clear good guy or bad guy. Caleb and Ann sleep together and causes all kinds of chaos between Mr. Loomis and Caleb. And as the two of them are working, Loomis… ever so subtly, insinuates that Caleb’s life is in his hands. And then Caleb decides he’s probably better off asking for the suit and moving on and looking for his own Eve to start over with. There is no shooting. There is no tractor gas hijacking. The movie characters are actually almost too painfully nice to one another. About the only real argument and discussion that Ann and Mr. Loomis have is about whether to use the church as the raw materials for the water wheel they need to build. And Loomis is the one that says they shouldn’t build it!
Z for Zachariah Explained
So if the book and the movie are so divergent, what can we take away from the book in order to interpret the movie’s ending? I have several theories about that. I’ll walk you through them both and then tell you what I think is actually happening.
The movie is 100% nuance. There is very little given to us from the script. I know, because I’ve since also read the script in an attempt to wrap my brain around the movie a little better. And there just isn’t a lot to go on from just the words. The acting by Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Chris Pine is really top notch and brings so much more to the movie than just the mere words.
Z for Zachariah Theory 1 – Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Seeing as though the book only has one Adam figure, Mr. Loomis… then maybe Caleb is Mr. Loomis’ alter ego… our Mr. Hyde if you will. It could follow mainly because all of the action from the book could be lumped under the Caleb banner. Caleb sleeps with Ann. Caleb takes the gear and flees into the hot zone. The comparisons sort of falls apart there – seeing as though Ann was the one that initiated the sex. And it was because of Loomis that Caleb runs for it. But seeing as though there was only one character in the book and now there is two, it is an idea worth discussing.
Z for Zachariah Theory 2 – Complete Divergence
Probably one of the most logical theories is that the writer, Nissar Modi, who adapted the book to screenplay, decided to take the script in a totally different and more nuanced direction. In this theory, Modi abandoned the evil in the Loomis character of the book. Instead of a terrible Adam type character, he added Caleb, and just went with the natural tension inherent in a love triangle, and allowed that to be his dramatic driver for the movie. And while that makes natural sense, a part of me just cries foul on this theory, which brings us to Theory 3.
Z for Zachariah Theory 3 – Movie Interrupted
My third theory about how the movie ended is that Caleb’s visit was a precursor to the book. It was an event that wasn’t discussed. And at the end, Ann is left in the kitchen, mourning Caleb’s departure because she knows that the Loomis-storm is coming. Right? She feels it in her bones that he is going to start telling her how to farm. That he’s going to demand she live in the house and will eventually shoot her. The major flaw with this coming doom perspective is that there is no indication that Loomis is that guy. And yet, its brimming. You can sort of see it in his eyes. No?
No – this theory doesn’t go nearly far enough as pointed out by many of you in the comments and by Gary who shook me awake via email. So if it hasn’t gone nearly far enough, it’s fairly obvious what happened. Ann is in the kitchen mourning Caleb’s death, and the obvious coming storm inherent in her of Mr. Loomis unhinged. It’s there in her shoving the glass off the table. It’s there in her looking in the freezer to see if the power is still on and if Loomis is still in control despite the “accident” at the waterwheel. It’s in Loomis’ eyes before we cut away. It’s in Caleb’s face before he fell to his death. Why else can you explain Caleb’s not saying goodbye? Loomis buries Caleb in the suit, and ditches his wagon. And voila, he left with whatever he needed…
Z for Zachariah Explained
Theories aside – I personally think that it makes the most sense that the tension in their eyes has been there all the way from the beginning of the book reading by Modi, all the way through to the last moment acted on the screen. We see that Ann failed Loomis, and went running into Caleb’s arms the first moment she could. And I also think that Caleb’s dying plays into the betrayals that Ann’s life has been riddled with the past few years by her father, her brother (whom Loomis killed) and now Caleb. Caleb’s “leaving” is her back breaker… And Loomis knows she will do his bidding as long as he gives her some halfway believable betrayal story.
Caleb was a fellow believer. “The church isn’t holy, the church is only holy because of what you bring to it.” Caleb was younger and also a fellow southerner. They hit it off and really enjoyed one another. And when Mr. Loomis killed Caleb, he ruined any hope of sanity Ann had. Any wonder her name was Ann Burden? And in effect, even if Mr. Loomis never did shoot Ann or order her around, he battered her, ultimately killing the one thing she needed the most, Caleb. He was her hope. And now he was gone.
I adored this movie. And yet, I doubt many will like it. Three people movies are never really well received. They are too play-like for the American public. And yet, they are glorious in my mind. Reminds me of Sils Maria or Tape in its tightness of scope and scale. The acting was simply lovely from start to finish. It was layered, nuanced and riveting. I personally love the idea of a Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde thing going on. Or maybe it is straight from the pages of the book? Nah, Loomis killed Jacob…. had to have. But hey… I’m open to hearing your theories about the movie. But I guarantee you the first comment on this post will be: “You are an idiot… this movie SUCKED.” Just watch. Until then!
Edited by, CY