Margot Robbie stars in this apocalyptic drama. This intense character study focuses on a lone survivor living in a valley and working the land. One day she stumbles across a survivor, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
With a refreshing take on shifting character dynamics, this tale of the apocalypse isn’t focused on disaster. ZACHARIAH is a surprisingly internal character piece with a slow brew of tension constantly ratcheting up in purposeful increments.
Margot Robbie is astounding in the lead. She doesn’t have over-the-top moments of expression, but rather quietly powerful emotional restraint. She is the anti-thesis of her breakthrough role in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, stripped of glamour and void of make-up. This is her movie. We experience this story from her point of view.
Robbie discovers Ejiofor bathing in a waterfall. She is surprised to see another person alive, but she’s more alarmed that he is in contaminated water. It’s up to her to save the day. What an introduction.
Ejiofor’s reaction to finding clean air was amazingly heartfelt, as tears stream down his face. You can really feel his emotions. Then, he quickly shifts into fear and we are overwhelmed as well.
Our hero takes the new survivor back to her home and nurses him back to health. Slowly, an honest relationship blooms over days and weeks.
There is also a big focus on books in Z FOR ZACHARIAH. Ejiofor represents science and technology, he uses his engineer background and books from Robbie’s family library to plan ahead for their future.
Another important book emphasized rather tenderly is the Bible. Robbie’s character is religious and also represents nature. She uses this book of faith to guide her life and frame her understanding, while using other books to tend to the land and help with farming. Knowledge, whether garnered from texts or from family, greatly inform how the story unfolds.
Z FOR ZACHARIAH is a movie about Christianity done right. It doesn’t feel heavy-handed or melodramatic in its subject matter at all. When Robbie clasps her hands for prayer at dinner and Ejiofor doesn’t, she prays silently. She never asks him about it either. They have differences in this regard but it doesn’t affect how she treats him or views him. Robbie judges based on action.
Part way through the movie, the plot takes a twist, as our Adam and Eve meet another survivor – a suspicious traveler played by Chris Pine. The audience is never certain if he should be trusted or if he is lying. We’re also never certain if Pine’s character is truly religious or manipulating Robbie’s character.
Pine plays it both ways, and so does the director, allowing for a thrilling participatory unwinding of the story.
It is only when a new character arrives that religion weighs on how she sees the situation. Some viewers may side with one character over the other based on their faith.
This compliments the viewer’s understanding of the interpretive ending. There is a beautiful moment as the movie finishes when we are asked to wonder who has faith and what does it mean to return to or reject religion.
Before the end of the movie there is another twist that will not get spoiled here. The ending asks the viewer to actively co-create the fiction. Depending on how you view the themes of religion or science, or which character you trust, you will have a different explanation for what the ending meant. This precious ambiguous finale will surely divide the audience. However, for some, it helps lift this contemplative thriller into another level of appreciation.
(Spoiler Free Theory on the Ending: My own interpretation was based on the organ that Robbie played. It seemed to represent religion, and tie in to her family. Having it inside the house, in those four walls and a roof, meant something for the character that brought it there.
— Hopefully, this is enough of a hint without ruining the true ending. Leave a comment below for more.)
Z FOR ZACHARIAH isn’t your traditional apocalyptic disaster movie, and it also isn’t your typical thriller. Deliberately paced,with amazing performances, this intense drama delivers a story focused on character and theme.
Watch this super compelling movie when you’re in the mood for a quiet study of what surviving after disaster might be like. This is a great movie to talk about afterwards. The personal interpretation angle is also a real highlight.
Although this indie hidden gem skipped the theaters don’t let that deter your anticipation. It just may have been too complex to market easily.
Director Craig Zobel made another underrated thriller called COMPLIANCE before this one. It also had an isolated scenario focused on character and mounting incredible tension. I’m highly anticipating his next film.
This impressive film was beautifully photographed with panoramic vistas, as well as powerfully emotional character close-ups. With a blend of realism and intelligent sci-fi, Zobel’s movie shares the same sort of vibe as CHILDREN OF MEN.
When all was said and done, Z FOR ZACHARIAH was one of the best movies of the summer. Do not let this one slip through the cracks.
What do you think?
Do you want to see Margot Robbie leading more movies?
Want to talk about that ending?
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