When Z for Zachariah was first published in 1974, its revered author, Robert C. O’Brien, was dead. So too was his novel’s radioactive America, torn apart by nuclear war, and even if the book has since become a YA classic due to its strong teenage protagonist, it ends darkly with rejection and a species-dooming irony that Katniss could never roll with.
Director Craig Zobel—he of the bitter Compliance—has the courage to serve the material, and if Ann has been aged upward into the decidedly adult Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), that’s not a terrible concession. She attempts to forge a paradise on an unspoiled farm protected by freak weather patterns, and when a gentle stranger (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrives, the Edenic parallels and religious overtones are as in your face as a Sunday school sermon.
But did the movie version really require the wholesale addition of Captain Kirk? Chris Pine, as a swarthy traveler, turns the happy duo into a tense threesome, and suddenly we’re having Sparksian conversations in the breakfast nook over coffee. The question of winning Ann sexually takes on an ugly character, and the film dumbs down fast. This is how the world ends: not with a bang but a wimp.
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