Beginning, middle, and end—the three essential parts of a story. When a story, or in this case a movie, seems to be missing one of the three, it makes us wonder why, draws us in deeper into the story, and forces us to conjure our own ways of filling in the blanks. Sometimes leaving a story in the hands of the audience falls flat but in Z for Zachariah, the up-in-the-air twists and turns creates room for profound reflection.
Ann (Margot Robbie) thinks she’s the last person on earth, the sole survivor of some unexplained nuclear apocalypse that has irradiated all but one little valley in the American south. There, she traps small animals, grows veggies, and milks her cow to survive. Imagine her surprise when she spots a guy, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor), in a “safe suit” he created. But, oops, as soon as he discovers this little Eden he goes and swims in a contaminated pond. Upon recovery, Ann and John work together to maintain their Eden and even come close to begin repopulating the earth.
Then Caleb (Chris Pine) shows up, unbelievably toned for someone existing in a nuclear waste land, throwing the growing relationship between Ann and John into chaos. Caleb shares Ann’s faith in God. John does not. John wants to tear down the little church built by Ann’s preacher-Dad to build a water wheel for electricity. Ann does not. And so the uncertainty and jealousy of a love triangle invades their Eden just like the serpent from the Genesis story.
Z for Zachariah won’t get your heart pumping or your adrenaline flowing but it seems more like real life than any FX-filled action flick. The beginning and middle of the story are there, but the ending seems a little fuzzy, allowing us to fill in the rest. The characters try to make sense of their lives and why they were chosen to survive. Isn’t that what we do, too? Isn’t that what God calls us to, to discover the purpose for which he put us on this earth and then do our best to respond? In the course of the journey, we struggle just like Ann, John, and Caleb did. Sometimes the motives for our actions are good and sometimes selfishness takes the upper hand.
While Z for Zachariah has a challenging scene from a moral perspective and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, I think older teens and adults would benefit from allowing the film to be a springboard for reflection and conversation. As a woman, I was drawn to Ann. I felt compassion for her situation and appreciated the tension she was living as a believer and a potential new Eve. It made me think about the basics of life: faith, God, family, love. If a person has those things, then everything else pales in comparison. Yet sometimes we put so much energy into all the peripheral stuff that we forget what’s important. In the end Z for Zachariah leaves me profoundly grateful for faith, God, family, and love and challenges me to put all the other stresses and worries of my life into proper perspective.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.