The prospect of human extinction is not going away any time soon.
When it’s not being touted as a threat to force citizens to care more deeply about political and environmental issues, it’s right there in the context of the entertainment we take in to escape those issues. (The Walking Dead is the most popular show on TV at the moment.) Not since Armageddon and Deep Impact arrived in the summer of 1998, though, have we had two projects about the end of the world as similar as Z For Zachariah and Last Man on Earth in such a short time. Even though the latter two have radically different tones, their similarities go way beyond premise.
Directed by Craig Zobel, the film Z For Zachariah, just released in theaters and VOD, is a serious and suspenseful look at relationships in the immediate aftermath of the apocalypse. Last Man on Earth is Will Forte’s surprise hit sitcom from the past spring, and takes a completely different approach in exploring the same territory. Craig Zobel did not miss a single episode.
“It’s an interesting companion piece to the movie,” he says of the show in an interview with Co.Create. Although Last Man on Earth eventually throws more survivors into the mix, it begins, like Z For Zachariah, with just one person, then two, and then an awkward trio. Neither project makes a compelling case for our prospects of successfully repopulating the Earth after a cataclysmic disaster.
Some significant differences exist between the film and the series. The genders are reversed, for one thing, with Margot Robbie’s Ann Rule as the initial Last Man on Earth in Zachariah, and Will Forte filling the role on his show. She’s self-sufficient, having grown up on a farm; he cuts a tapas dish-sized hole in a diving board to turn his pool into a giant toilet. When new people are introduced into the situation, Forte is only relieved, whereas Robbie’s relief is tinged with a survivor’s caution.
Despite their differences, however, Zachariah and Last Man both suggest that the end of the world doesn’t erase the inherent tension of interpersonal relationships, so much as it pours gasoline on them and tosses a match.
[Warning: mild spoilers to follow, but you can infer them from the trailer.]
“What appeals to me about the premise of the last two people left on earth is not so much whether they’re compatible versus incompatible, but just the fact that there’s so much pressure on them to make it work,” Zobel says. Indeed, when the lead character of his film, Ann, meets Chiwetel Ejiofor’s lightly radiation-poisoned Loomis, they don’t immediately hit it off–even though they seem aware that they sort of must hit it off.
Likewise, in Last Man On Earth, Will Forte’s Phil expresses theological gratitude at discovering Kristen Schaal’s Carol–but that lasts only until he realizes how opposed each other’s worldview is–despite the absence of said world.
“Whatever peace that exists, whatever relationship they are able to forge, it all goes out the window when another person enters the picture,” Zobel says. No sooner have Ann and Loomis entered into an uneasy union than Chris Pine’s Caleb shows up and knocks this fragile new world off its axis.
In the world of Last Man On Earth, Phil agrees to Carol’s odd stipulation that they be married before starting in on the, uh, procreation attempts. Before he even has a chance to get used to wedlock, though, a more attractive (to Phil) and more simpatico woman, played by January Jones, shows up and Forte is devastated by his current arrangement.
Loomis is weary of Caleb from moment one, and he wants to ward off the development of any feelings between he and Ann any way he can, including playing the race card. “A lot of what Loomis’ manipulations stem from is the righteousness of having been there first,” Zobel says. “He feels threatened, and he doesn’t know how to threaten back.”
Last Man Phil will do or say just about anything in the name of coupling with Melissa instead of Carol. There is no glass ceiling to his pathetic machinations. “Phil makes it pretty hard to root for him,” Zobel says of the show, “but I guess that’s the point.”
Discussing this point in any further detail would take away from the experience of watching how eitherZachariah or Last Man play out. It’ll suffice to say that in both projects, at least one character considers taking extreme action to cement the relationship he or she wants above all.
The only alternative would be an open relationship, which is something Zobel confesses he contemplated putting in Z For Zachariah. “We always joked about that. We even considered it,” he says. “Ultimately, if these characters shared each other romantically, it’d be a totally different story.”
Z For Zachariah is out in theaters and on VOD now. Last Man on Earth returns for its second season on September 27th. Let us know which other similarities we missed in the comments below.