Director: Michael Campus
Z.P.G., AKA Zero Population Growth, is a wonderfully depressing science fiction film that depicts a future world where birthing children is illegal and punishable by death. Placed in a bizarre society for which population control is the main focus of the government, this film is cloaked in a claustrophobic atmosphere that will literally choke the life out of you as you witness this strained and subdued civilization, which is emotionally repressed beyond belief, struggle to push on amidst such dire of environments. Knee deep in futuristic retro imagery and drowning in despair, Z.P.G. is a science fiction film that is heavy on contemplative themes as it spins a tale so heart wrenching and disturbing, that you’ll want to hug your loved ones after viewing it.
On a distant future Earth filled with pollution and overpopulation, a married couple, Russ and Carol McNeil, struggle to come to terms with the fact that their government has placed a ban on all procreation in order to rein in the overwhelming numbers of the populace. Going against their better judgment, they decide to defy the order and have a child. After the baby is born the real challenge comes into play, for this defiant couple must do everything in their power in order to keep the child a secret or they will all be put to death for their heinous actions against the state. Swimming in paranoia and riddled with mistrust, the McNeil’s catch the attention of their neighbors, the Borden’s, who stumble in on their little secret, complicating an already difficult situation. As the McNeil’s and the Borden’s come to a truce, which results in them sharing the baby and not reporting its existence, the happy union soon turns to jealousy and hate, forcing the McNeil’s to do the unthinkable in order to save their newfound family.
Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin take on the roles of Russ and Carol McNeil, the emotionally desperate couple who long for a child in a child restricted world. Their plight is heartbreaking and Reed and Chaplin do everything in their power to make us feel the desperation that they are going through. With brooding delivery and melancholy disposition, their combined performances replicate perfectly the effects of living in a repressed society in which the powers that be have refused such a natural thing as life itself. The stakes rise considerably after they go through with bringing a child into this oppressed world, and the anxiety escalates to an unbearable pitch as they frantically try to keep their new bundle of joy a secret. During these moments the two actors really soar as they portray their fears of being discovered with fervent realism and unabashed severity. The heightened sense of paranoia in this film is astounding and you really feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, thanks to the genuinely sincere performances of both Reed and Chaplin.
Things quickly come to a head in the storyline when George and Edna Borden come into the picture after discovering the McNeil’s little secret. Don Gordon and Diane Cilento take on the role of the Borden’s and damn do they really ratchet up the tension of the film. Once introduced, the repercussions of what the McNeil’s have done really comes to light and you can feel the movie teeter on the brink as Russ and Carol McNeil plead and bargain with the Borden’s to keep the secret to themselves. The reason this particular moment is so damn effective is because all the actors involved really give it their all in establishing the harshness of the society and the situation they are in. This is a world void of something so natural as the act of birthing and raising a child, and you can feel the longing for this humanistic act in every actor’s performance. In the context of the storyline, the Borden’s are the vilest of villains to ever grace the screen, because we truly come to despise them for what they are putting the main characters through. In retrospect though, you come to sympathize with them somewhat because you can understand the situation that they are in. They want a child of their own and they are desperate to fill the void that not having one has formed within them. When it’s all said and done, the complexities of this horrifying situation is portrayed perfectly by all the actors involved, both good and bad, and I commend them all for bringing such a genuine feel to their roles, which really resulted in me giving a damn on how the story would end.
As for the world depicted in Z.P.G., it is an absolute nightmare brought to life. The Earth as we once knew it is long dead and gone, along with all animal and plant life. The only memories that remain of these now extinct forms of life are housed inside museums and old records, leaving mankind to ponder over what once was. The very atmosphere of this future world is thick with pollution, forcing any being still alive to wear gas masks when venturing outside into the smog filled air. Cities are packed to the gills with throngs of people, all desperately trying to find a place in this savage world, yet living out their lives in loveless abandon. If there was ever a more perfect word to describe the status of this future nightmare it would be, Ghostly. The human race is in shambles and they trudge through life like soulless shells, hoping for a better future but seeing nothing to brighten their spirits on the horizon. It’s a sad state of affairs and the filmmakers have spared no expense in emphasizing the sad truth of this society.
With no punches being pulled, director Michael Campus and crew display a future society where mankind has spent every last natural resource, leaving the Earth a crippled and dying mess. With overpopulation and pollution reaching maximum capacity levels, the filmmakers effectively capture these thematic concepts through spellbinding visuals that literally define the hopelessness of this decaying world. The fog shrouded city streets massed with gas mask wearing citizens, the empty museums filled with artifacts from the once thriving modern age, and the constant feeling of paranoia and despair all add to the overwhelming tone of the movie. As with the visuals, the general story is equally depressing and void of warmth. Even in the most happiest of moments, when the baby is born, we are left with a horrifying feeling that if the McNeil’s are discovered they will be put to death. The film bears a rather heavy burden as it takes all of these depressing aspects in, attempting to tell a humorless story that is destined to end badly for its main protagonists. For that I applaud it. You won’t find a more succinct science fiction tale in which vividly displays a dying earth in the sincerest of ways as this one.
Z.P.G. is an ominous masterpiece that is as fascinating as it is depressing. Forged by the sensibilities of its fellow early 70’s brooding science fiction brethren, this engaging entry is quite a tension filled tour de force. Relying on an expertly crafted world and a no nonsense approach to storytelling in order to establish the mood, this film is an emotionally exhausting experience that absorbs you into the story and makes you care for the lives of the main characters.
Oliver Reed and Geraldine Chaplin are outstanding as Russ and Carol McNeil and their constant struggles to have a child of their own in this devastated civilization are engrossing to say the least. Add on top of that the stupendous efforts by Don Gordon and Diane Cilento as George and Edna Borden and you have yourself a tension driven narrative that never ceases to push the envelope and super-charge the direness of it all. Admittedly this movie is hard to swallow. It is so adamant and effective at realizing its nightmarish world that you might find yourself taken aback by how raw it is, but for a film that truly succeeds in weaving its sordid tale of mankind and its dying years, I would say that it is a definite winner. Zero Population Growth is a devastating science fiction flick that everyone must see. This shit is…..
|This is what nightmares are made of my friends.|
|What a shithole!|
|Grandpa! Did you poop your pants again!|
|One of the few happy moments in this film.|
|I know that face. Get your ass to a bathroom now Oliver!|
|You disgust me.|
|Does this futuristic jump suit make me look fat?|
|What kind of mad man would give a baby a titty twister?|
|Oh how I hate my robot baby. Shit.... he's right behind me isn't he?|
|You can take my baby from me, but I'll be damned if you take my turtleneck!|
|I said leave the turtleneck sweater alone mister!|
|Dear god.... Nooooooo!|
|Don't go into the Mist!|
|Shit! Here comes the Five-O!|
|We are family. My wife, our illegal baby, and me!|