Craig Zobel‘s Z for Zachariah (Roadside, 8.28) is a parable about racial harmony (or a lack of) in a hidden-away, radiation-free valley in the wake of a nuclear holocaust. Or about survival skills in this realm. Try again minus the blah-blah. It’s a racially-attuned romantic triangle film focusing on the last three people to survive a nuclear war — a conservative, simple-minded, God-fearing farm girl (Margot Robbie), a resourceful, atheistic scientist who knows to how make and fix things (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a local conservative guy (Chris Pine) who’s a perfect match for Robbie. Except Chewy hooked up with her first and is wary of being elbowed aside or whatever. Still not really it! Why can’t I just spit it out?
Z for Zachariah is a 21st Century The World, The Flesh and the Devil — a story about two whiteys and a fellow of a different ethnic origin, and about who gets to bond and have kids with the pretty girl. And, of course, who the pretty girl likes better and for what reason. Or if she even wants to have kids with either of these guys in the first place. I finally said it!
You can slip on your shiny Fred Astaire pumps and clickety-clack all around the dance floor, but that’s what Z for Zachariah is about.
The solution, of course, is that there needn’t be a “solution.” When civilization has been all but obliterated and there may be no one left besides these three, the intelligent thing would be to understand that the only positive thing they can do is start civilization all over again by having kids and building a life, and that means Robbie, Ejiofor and Pine would have to learn to be cool and put aside all jealous and super-territorial instincts and agree to have a permanent three-way thing with Robbie bearing kids with both of them. Four kids, I’m thinking — two mixed-race with Chewitel and two lily-whites with Pine. Or three with each…whatever. Doesn’t that make sense?
Oh, sure, there’ll be some twists and turns along the road, some emotional or sexual issues from time to time, but Ejiofor and Pine really don’t have the luxury of indulging in the old “she’s my woman so stay away!” thing. No glaring at each other, no fighting for Robbie’s hand. That’s primitive, man. You all need to breed, build, invest in new dreams.
This, at least, is what I was thinking as I watched Z for Zachariah seven months ago during the Sundance Film Festival. But the movie, based on a script by Nissar Modi and based on a 1974 book by Robert C. O’Brien, has other ideas, which I won’t be divulging. But it’s worth seeing because this is one of those exotic-situation movies that sends you out thinking and kicking the plot points around. (The book, I can tell you, is a whole ‘nother animal — a two-character thing about trust, fear and aggression between Robbie and Ejiofor’s characters.)
And the movie has one sarcastic line, spoken by Ejiofor, that got my attention. His scientist realizes right away that Robbie and Pine are not just cut from the same racial-cultural cloth but well-suited for each other in other respects. And he resents this, of course, because he’s begun a kind of tentative relationship with Robbie (i.e., they’ve fucked) and he senses it may not last. So he says to Robbie at one point, “Oh, you whiteys just have your Christian tribal-rapport thing going, don’t you?” (Or words close to that.) Now, imagine if the story was reversed — if Pine and, let’s say, Kerry Washington were the couple making do on the farm (i.e., working and fucking and thinking about maybe having kids) and then Chewitel comes along and suddenly he‘s the interloper, and then Pine gradually senses a budding attraction between Washington and Ejiofor. Can you imagine the Pine character blurting out to Washington, “Oh, you darker-pigmentation types just have your little tribal-rapport thing going, don’t you?”
Of course not. That line wouldn’t be written by any screenwriter with a brain, and if an actor improvised such a line it would be cut out. But Chewitel gets to say the line that’s in the film. That’s where Z for Zachariah is coming from — i.e., the dark-skinned guy is cool but the white guy is a bit of problem. In short, it has a politically-correct mindset.
If I were Robbie’s character I would beg Pine and Ejiofor to put away the hatchet and let’s all get to work and start working out a schedule (every other week or month she sleeps with Pine and then Chewy and so on) with the understanding that kids will eventually come along and so on. It would be the only way to play it. Polymorphous perversity for the future of the human race.