The World, The Flesh and the Devil

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The World, The Flesh and the Devil

Post  BoG on Wed Mar 24, 2010 3:53 pm


The world ends - civilization, to be precise - and we don't see it happen. The main character (Harry Belafonte) is working in a deep mine when it happens. There's a cave-in and he's trapped below. After a while, he begins to wonder why no one is coming down to rescue him, so he determines to exit the mine on his own. At this point, the film takes on a slightly surrealistic bent; the survivor never finds any bodies; it's all just empty of people. I guess everyone was evacuated to somewhere... but, where?  The film avoids the grisliness of mass death and concentrates on the desolation of such a scenario.  It also (later) addresses race relations of those times; the female survivor (Inger Stevens) doesn't seem to mind the skin color difference, but there is nonetheless tension between the two, acknowledging the baggage left over from the old world.
I  have The World, the Flesh and the Devil on Laserdisc, having purchased it a dozen years ago, which was about the last time I watched it up until the showing on TCM a couple of years ago.  What sticks in my memory is the character played by Mel Ferrer, who shows up late, after Belafonte & Inger Stevens have been on screen for awhile. His character comes off as rather creepy and ambivalent - I guess he was played that way on purpose to add tension - on the one hand he seems a civilized gentleman, on the other as someone waiting to stick a knife in Belafonte's back at the right moment. The last half-hour is rather vague and a bit bizarre: Belafonte & Ferrer are now running around the empty city canyons with rifles after having some civil discussions; then the 3 characters are walking off together in peace. The message, it seems to me, is that mankind is essentially insane. Just 3 people may work out (just!), but add a 4th and 5th and pretty soon the paranoia gains strength, the senseless killing starts.
Now, putting aside philosophy and social commentary, there's a point to be made on the pragmatic side. What many people who have seen this film do not recall is that the world is not left with just these 3 survivors. I'm fairly certain on this - at one point Inger Stevens finds out that there ARE survivors in other cities. The problem, of course, is connecting with them to restart civilization, which will take some time. Well, I think they would need all the ones they can find. I'm not a scientist, but I'm also fairly certain that we would need a minimum amount of people for genetic variation to restart the population growth - something like 1,000 people, I would think. This kind of goes back to the Adam & Eve myth; when I got into my early teens, I started asking questions of the adults about this: then there was Cain & Abel, then another son, but how did all the rest of the people come about? "Well, they were from ...other places" was usually the vague answer.
In the end, I prefer The Quiet Earth (1985) - a virtual remake - over this one.  The Quiet Earth has the same basic framework of 3 survivors - a white man, a white woman and a black man - with the only difference the order of introductions (the white man is introduced first in The Quiet Earth). The entire presentation of the latter film, with the first survivor going through different stages of insanity as this new empty world is impressed upon him, is much more interesting than the older film, where-in the characters are simply depressed, submerging their insanity. Their pretense lent another layer of boredom to an already fairly dull narrative (except for some of those shots of the empty NYC); it's grimly realistic, but just so slow. BoG's Score: 5.5.  I guess I could say this was already done to better effect in the earlier Five (1951). THE FULL FILM:

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