Welcome to the Ending Explained for ‘The Quiet Earth,’ a science fiction film written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence, and Sam Pillsbury and based on the novel of the same name written by Craig Harrison. Geoff Murphy directs the film and stars Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge, and Pete Smith. The film tells the story of Zac, a scientist who apparently was involved in a project that caused a terrible cataclysm on Earth. The result of the event sees Zac as the last man on Earth, or is he? The film is quite mysterious, and the ending has become iconic, not only for its powerful visual content but also because it is hard to pinpoint its meaning.
Director Geoff Murphy has been somewhat vague when explaining what happens at the movie’s end. He has also referenced Catholicism when talking about his inspiration for the movie. So, by seeing the film through that lens, something is happening on a level beyond our comprehension. The movie touches on the human condition, how we relate to others, and how change is a must if we survive a universe so indifferent to our existence.
The following paragraphs contain spoilers for ‘The Quiet Earth’. Read at your own risk.
Who is Zac Hobson?
The film begins with the first occurrence of “The Effect,” or at least the first one shown to us. The sun flickers strangely and disturbingly, which looks anything but natural. The next thing we do is to meet our main character, Zac Hobson. Zac is a scientist working for a company called Delenco. Zac was also a group member working on an ambitious project called “Operation Flashlight.” We are told the project’s objective was to install a wireless power network to feed energy to military facilities worldwide. The implication is that later, the technology could have been used to deliver energy to civilian populations worldwide.
When Zac wakes up, we see him for the first time, and we start learning about him through his actions, the way he speaks, and the way he reacts to his situation, which are all examples of good writing. We can infer that while brilliant, Zac is not easy to deal with. However, Zac is all alone in this new world he finds himself in. What could have been heaven for him in the past is now a nightmare. His own private hell. Zac begins to wander in this quiet Earth and finds no one. He is alone. The situation begins to degrade his mental state rather quickly.
However, things change when Zac finally finds someone else in this deserted land. A woman named Joanne appears before Zac and injects life into him once again. It is quite amazing, and Zac believes this must be a sign that there might be hope for the future. Zac and Joanne have sex, and they seem to establish a relationship. Things change once again when they find another survivor, a man named Api. Zac and Api begin to fight for Joanne’s attention, and in the end, it seems that Zac loses Joanne to Api. It doesn’t matter, as Zac is more interested in his scientific endeavors. He believes that whatever happens will happen again.
The movie finally reveals what happened to Zac before the start of the movie. A tape recorder gave us hints that Zac knew the Flashlight project would end in disaster, but he never spoke up. The result was that the project continued, and apparently, most life on Earth was extinguished. Zac committed suicide the precise moment the effect happened. Joanne also died at that precise moment by electrocution, and Api died in a fight. It seems being in this umbral between life and death is the reason they remained in the world instead of disappearing with the rest.
Where is Zac at the end of ‘The Quiet Earth’?
After these revelations are made public, the trio comes up with a plan. They decide that they need to destroy the Delenco facility that is still running and keep the Flashlight project alive. If the facility is destroyed, maybe the function of the wireless network will cease, and the Effect will not happen a second time. Api decides that he will sacrifice himself and run a truck of explosives into the facility. However, knowing that he lost the battle for Joanne, Zac gets ahead of him and does it himself. However, it seems that Zac is too late, and while he manages to ignite the explosives inside the facility, he does it a second too late.
The Effect occurs again, and the legendary ending to the movie comes. Zac wakes up once again in a similar fashion to how he did at the beginning of the film. This time, there is no sign of Joanne or Api. This time, Zac is truly alone. He is on a beach, but this is no normal beach. We see on the horizon cloud formations that look like mushroom clouds coming out of the ocean, and beyond that, a planet with rings similar to Saturn.
Wherever Zac is, he is not on Earth. At least not the Earth as we know it. Zac knows that the laws of physics have been changing slowly since the first instance of the effect, and this seems to be just another jump.
The movie ends here with Zac looking at this terrifying view. There are no answers to the mysteries, only theories. The entire movie could be seen as Zac being trapped in Purgatory. He is to relive the cycle of life and death, over and over again, until he can finally change and become a better person. Many religious allusions are throughout the film, so this interpretation is not out of the question. Zac committed suicide, which in many traditions assures you a trip to hell, and so he must do better if he wants to go to heaven.
It could also be that Zac is simply being taken away from the planet or the universe and put somewhere else. Zac and Api are opposite; Zac is the end, and Api is the beginning. Maybe Api and Joanne are able to be the new Adam and Eve, and they can repopulate the Earth now that Zac is gone. Zac, is gone along with his knowledge. The knowledge that destroyed the world in the first place. There are many interpretations; some of them are spirituals, but there is no clear answer; these are just some possibilities. What do you believe happened to Zac in the end?