S.J. Chambers on The Last Man on Earth (1964)
S.J. Chambers is another of my very best friends, a talented author, a Poe scholar, co-author of The Steampunk Bible, and articles editor at Strange Horizons. Surprisingly, when I asked her to contribute something to the Vincent Price Halloween countdown, she didn’t pick one of the many Corman/Price Poe films, but gravitated instantly to the great Richard Matheson adaptation The Last Man on Earth, which by chance I also talked about in my latest column for Innsmouth Free Press:
Solitude. Time for one to collect their thoughts. To sort out one’s memories. It always sounds idyllic—probably in a cabin in the woods, or a hammock on the beach, and impossible in a living and thriving world where people are everywhere. If only they would disappear, just for a few minutes, one could clear one’s head. But, then of course, the people do disappear, or begin to lay undead in the streets, and the Solitude, the anticipated respite, the quiet becomes your worst enemy.
The Last Man on Earth is my favorite Price film of all time, because for its first twenty minutes, Price, as Dr. Robert Morgan, take us on a tour through true solitude. I can’t think of any other film that simulates the complexity of loneliness like LMOE. Because there is no one to talk too, it is silent with the exception of Price’s ruminative voiceover uttering thoughts like:
“…empty silent world”
“I’ll settle for coffee and orange juice this morning”
“Now it bores me”
“I can’t live a heartbeat away from hell. Forget it.”
Thought fragments that help imbue the story which is further developed by the juxtaposition of his routine and the objects that crowd his house.
Performed by any other actor, this fragmented form of visual storytelling could easily fall flat, but transformed through Price’s poise, the sanity, the composure the character tries to keep, waivers every second on his face. As he walks aimlessly through his home, contemplating all the relics from his old life, his face waxes and wanes under the memories and associations, only to return to a disgusted, yet Zen-like expression that is, well…Priceless.
What is also lovely about this first 20 minutes is it keeps conjuring up emotional questions in the viewer that keeps them following Dr. Morgan, who has nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to love and be loved by, yet he carries on. Why? He has been liberated from the world—no job, no family, yet, he creates tasks for himself to keep himself sane. What does he need the sanity for? To wait it all out? For the lonely plague to dissipate? Because he believes he isn’t the last man on Earth? Well, yes. While we all long for solitude, no one wants to be the last person on earth.