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The conclusion of The Quiet Earth (1985) has Zac pushing the explosive detonator button just as the sun experiences its "effect" probably from the distortion of time and space. (See the finale beginning at 1:22:45 on Youtube.)

At 1:24:41, he wakes up completely unharmed, presumably spared of death (again) by "dying" during the effect. The world has changed, but he seems the same—confirmed well into the end credits (1:26:05) since he still has the dictation recorder.

The world he is on strongly resembles Earth as far as we can see, except for the water spouts and ringed planet which rises as he watches.

The Wikipedia article has a mild attempt to explain the ending from the director's DVD commentary: "[T]he director suggests a recurrence of The Effect because of Zac's second death. But he also allows a lapsed-Catholic colleague's idea of a second term in Purgatory. In any case, he says that 'a little obscurity' is a good thing."

This doesn't seem like a "little obscurity". Instead, it is a major puzzle!

We still don't know what happened to everyone else: this time it seems likely he really is alone since Joanne and Api were safely far away from the explosion.

Is he on Earth? Did the planets get rearranged? Has the "effect" ended?

While I am all in favor of some obscurity to make me work my brain, I saw this when it came out 28 years ago and still am no closer to any explanations.

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I don't think this has a single answer; if one is to ignore what the director says, the question becomes strictly opinion-based, and off topic. –  James McLeod Aug 7 '13 at 2:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This is a great question, a great film and classic puzzle for most sci-fi films that challenge the human condition.

You Have To Understand Zac

Zac commits suicide at the start of the film because he feels very depression from his involvement in project Flashlight. He knows that the experiment will have dire consequences and he can't live with that guilt. He suffers from a social detached personality, is divorced and has a problem getting along with other people.

This is important, because Zac finds himself in a world where he thinks he's the only man alive. What starts out to be the ideal world for him to live in turns into an endless hell as he discovers he hates being alone and starts to go crazy.

He changes into a person who needs to be with someone and this is when he finds Joanne, falls in love and has a chance at happiness.

Api shows up and Zac realizes he hasn't really changed. People find him difficult to get along with.

What Is The Effect?

Project Flashlight was an experiment to create a grid around the Earth that would wirelessly power electronic devices. The experiment was completely computer controlled, and when Zac discovers that Flashlight is the cause of the event. He discovers that the grid is still on and that another event is going to occur. Except this time the next event will be bigger.

There was some kind of unexplained connection with the Sun. Something they didn't expect and the grid interacted with the Sun to cause the effect.

Prelude To The Ending

Zac comes to realize that everything related to the event is because of him. His difficulty getting along with people, his feelings of guilt for his involvement and a life of feeling depressed. His act of destroying the research center is an attempt to atone for what he has done.

So we have a person who hates being with people. He is the engineer who calculates the math for project Flashlight. Who kills himself and this strange event happens, then he wakes up to find he is alone. I don't think this is a coincidence. If you can accept that Zac and the event are somehow connected, then the ending makes more sense.

Ending Break Down

Zac drives the truck full of explosives to the research center, but before he can enter the compound the truck collapses the ground and falls into the control room. This is the only indication in the end that something went wrong. Had the truck not gotten stuck he would have been able to drive into the compound and destroy the dish before the event happens.

Just before the truck falls in, Zac closes his eyes and says "f#ck!". He knows he didn't make it.

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Joanne and Api cry out "It's started!" as the effects of the event begin to be felt, and then Zac presses the button to trigger the bomb.

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It's too late! The event triggers and we see a quick flash of the sun. Followed by the explosion triggered by Zac. In that order. Had the explosion stopped the event the sun would not have flashed.

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Joanne and Api are now gone (or are they? see at bottom)! Just like the first event. All life on Earth disappears, and just like the first event Zac has killed himself. He has committed suicided. We know he is dead because we watch the research building go up in the explosion, but we don't see what happens to Joanne and Api. That part is left ambiguous, but I'll try to explain why lower down.

The next thing we see is the "tunnel of light", and then Zac wakes up on another planet.

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The very last thing we see of Zac (during the credits) is face while he quickly looks at the read out of the device he uses to measure the event, and then he looks out to the sky in horror as he realizes he is no longer on Earth.

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Explaining The Ending

To understand the ending. You have to understand the beginning. This is critical to the entire film.

Zac has always been dead.

The film was made in New Zealand, and filmed in the city of Auckland. The largest population of Catholics is located in the city of Auckland. The book and director of the film make several references to catholicism.

Catholics believe that if you commit suicide you go to hell.

Zac commits suicide at the start of the film, and wakes in a world that is perfect for him. He hates people and there aren't any. What should be heaven turns slowly into hell as he realizes he needs people to survive.

Joanne is introduced, he falls in love but loses her to Api.

Zac commits suicide a second time, and wakes up on another planet. He realizes in horror that he has not died (again), but this time there is nothing. There are no cities, there are no houses to ransack, there will be no women to keep him company and there will be no men to talk with. His hell has gotten worse.

Zac is living his afterlife in hell, and each time he commits suicide his hell gets worse. It's a sci-fi abstract take on the Catholic values of suicide and afterlife.

About Joanne and Api

I've always taken Joanne and Api to represent Adam and Eve in paradise. Zac represents the evil in paradise, and when the second event happens evil is expelled from paradise.

Depending on which perspective you take. It becomes up to the viewer to decide their fate. If the two represent Adam and Eve, then they survived the second event to repopulate the Earth. If you are non-religious then they disappeared like all life did in the first event.

All the survivors in the film were people whose death was a sin. I would say that Joanne and Api were real people, but we can assume they too were in the afterlife.

The question of "what is the afterlife" in the context of the film is never explained. It's simply shown that it's relative to the characters.

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+1: Excellent synthesis! –  wallyk Aug 7 '13 at 16:13
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@wallyk another point I forgot to mention was the connection between the Sun and the event as a religious connection. Many religions put an importance on the Sun as a God figure. So the event in a way was an act of God. –  Mathew Foscarini Aug 7 '13 at 16:24
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This is a great answer. The religious aspects I was ignorant of, but I had a vague osmotic impressions. This explanation does quite a bit to clarify them as well as make great amplifications of what the director was suggesting through character behavior and actions–or maybe inactions. Thanks for really thinking this through and sharing! –  wallyk Aug 10 '13 at 14:13
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"All the survivors in the film were people whose death was a sin." Not true. Of the 3 main protagonists, Zac was the only one with sinful death - he committed suicide. Api was killed by somebody else, and even though he did commit the sin of adultery and thought of himself as a murderer, his death was not sinful in the catholic sense. Joanne simply died from electrocution. Also it is made clear that other people survived the (first) event, only to die from various other causes (newborns from lack of care, some woman because she was in a car accident), none of which were "sinful" –  Shivan Dragon Nov 24 '13 at 16:07

It is obvious from the way the movie is scripted and made, that the writers and the director do not want to provide any satisfactory answers to questions such as this. For one, it is never explained what the effect really was. We just know that the protagonist was near his death experience and seemingly survived. And that several of the physical characteristics of the world have changed.

Personally I think that death plays a major part in the story and answers from the film. Characters about to die are revived, while the rest of life forms have seemingly vanished. Taken from a sci-fi perspective, it becomes difficult to believe that a series of events related to a global energy grid could disorrient the universe itself (as seen from the last scene showing the planet) because there is no explanation provided. The director's reference to religion is equally baffling. Clearly, there is no hint or hidden answer to be found.

Simply put, there is no conclusive material or answer to this question. It simply is a story. You cannot know or speculate about things not in the story.

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Many movies are just like what you explain. They intentionally leave details out which are filled in by our imagination. I think your last statement is incorrect, though. The whole reason they leave these questions unanswered is so that you will speculate about the things not in the story. When the viewer speculates, they ask questions. When they ask questions, it brings others into the viewers circle. More talk; more viewers; more revenue. –  Paulster2 Aug 7 '13 at 10:45
    
what I meant was that you cannot possibly arrive at a conclusive answer based on the film, you cannot be sure, as when there are books and sources in case of other films. –  kicker86 Aug 7 '13 at 13:06
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I see your point. +1 for your answer above, btw. –  Paulster2 Aug 7 '13 at 14:28

I think the second death of Zac put him in another Universe. I always thought when seeing this very good film, that, in death, you are with the ones youdied with at the same time. So, Zac was alone at the end.

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