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The Last Woman on Earth

Have you heard the one about the neglected socialite, her insensitive but rich husband and the nihilistic lawyer masquerading as a sensitive young man? While the love triangle of "Last Woman On Earth" (1960) might sound a little like a joke looking for a punchline, in truth this often underestimated gem is sci-fi as Ray Bradbury himself might've appreciated. As with Bradbury's most masterful stories, the focus is on how unusual situations expose human nature rather than on fantastical monsters and special effects.

In "Last Woman", an unexplained catastrophe leaves only three survivors and soon, the man-woman ratio begins to chafe psyches, egos and more. As pressures mount, the characters confront their attitudes about social niceties and reveal themselves in more elemental terms than the clichés of their social roles previously allowed. Evelyn, the titular Last Woman, was the picture of the materially privileged but emotionally starved socialite wife who drowned her frustration with her insensitive husband in buckets of cocktails. She sees the new situation as an opportunity to discover for the first time what she wants for herself. Her husband, the businessman Harold, simply transfers his entrepreneurial instincts to catching more fish than the trio can use and hatching a plan for their long-term survival. Martin, who in the old order worked to protect Harold from the legal fallout of his questionable (but profitable) business practices, is convinced that Harold's efforts are pointless. Rather than contemplate a future that is, to him, without hope, he looks to spend whatever days he has left as pleasantly as possible—even if this means eloping with Evelyn.

Director Roger Corman is known for his ability to manage production schedules and costs, delivering films in record time. "Last Woman" is said to have been shot while he was in Puerto Rico, working on another production with a much larger budget and more generous schedule. In addition to moonlighting, he often stuck to his tight budgets by re-using sets designed for other movies. One of his quirkiest (and most beloved) films, "Little Shop of Horrors" (1960), was shot on recycled sets within three days. Could his ability to maximize efficiency without altogether neglecting artistry have been a product of studying engineering in college? If so, it would just go to show that a science education has multifarious applications….

The Science

Mercedes Ward

Mercedes WardAnthropologist Mercedes Ward of the University of Utah discusses human relationships and the film “The Last Woman on Earth.”

 

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