As part of HiloBrow’s Movie Objects series of essays, Jonathan Lethem writes about Burt Lancaster’s hammer in the 1958 movie adaptation of George R. Stewart’s almost last-man-on-earth novel, Earth Abides.
Earth Abides surrounds a feral-looking Burt Lancaster, fresh off the set of John Huston’s The Unforgiven, with a cast of New York stage actors and unknowns, among them a young Gena Rowlands and the unforgettably eccentric character actor Timothy Carey. The material of Stewart’s Earth Abides is a lot less doomy, actually, than the Shute — despite 95 percent of the world population being extinguished in a viral plague, as the title suggests, it’s a book about survival and contemplation. The main character, Ish (Lancaster), wanders the emptied streets scouting for food and companions, but also meditating on the profound and lyrical encroachment of the natural environment over humankind’s works, and the persistence of life and meaning in the absence of societal certainties.
Those who know don’t ask, and those who ask don’t know.