Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Movie Review: Warm Bodies

I'm late to the party, seemingly as usual. Girlfriend and I wanted to see this movie for Valentine's, but got delayed until last weekend. The movie was worth the wait. It was funny, it was moving, it was romantic. And it was very well acted; Nicholas Hoult is perfect, and Rob Corddry plays again type so well I didn't know it was him until the end credits.

It was also rather overtly political. I seem to be seeing political overtones in everything these days; maybe I'm still recovering from election season. But then again, perhaps the resurgence of zombie fiction speaks to a kind of cultural zeitgeist. Humanity has always made supernatural monsters out of natural horrors. The vampire, for example, represents the allure and danger of sexuality, which is why they've become more sympathetic over time as society's attitudes change. The zombie, likewise, represents the "faceless masses"; apparently human, but unable to think, or show mercy, or be reasoned with by any method other than buckshot. It's the fear of being destroyed by your fellow men. This has been an underlying theme of politics for much of the 21st century to date; the "us vs. them" mentality that characterizes partisan rhetoric and undermines attempts at compromise.

The movie is aware of this. It doesn't draw direct parallels, as well it shouldn't. Doing so cheapens the message into a tract. But the producers are aware of the deeper meanings in the plot; one of the headlines that fly by in montage near the beginning reads "President Infected". Later R tells us it's been eight years since the trouble started; the typical duration of a U.S. Presidential regime. And the zombies are divided into normal zombies (moderates), and skeletal "boneys" (extremists). The difference, according to R at least, is that the former seek to hold on to the shreds of their humanity, even though they must now eat humans out of necessity. The boneys have given up all hope and embraced their inhumanity, existing now only to kill and eat.

Many great love stories -- especially those in the Romeo and Juliet mold -- are actually stories about cultures in collision, and Warm Bodies is no exception. We don't see much of the human culture, but enough that we know what it's like; reeling from years of fighting for their lives, these people close themselves off, building a great wall to keep the zombies out, and sending the young and fit out into the dead lands to scavenge what remains, knowing that they are likely to return as zombies themselves. These people aren't inherently bad, rather they're mortally afraid of something they don't understand; afraid enough that they're not willing to take the risk to understand. In their own way, they're not so much different than the zombies, and their stone wall and stockpile of arms only perpetuates the problem. Salvation for both sides comes only through understanding; in the end, we have to teach our children about playing hide and seek rather than scoring headshots. As R notes, "It was scary, but all great things start out a little scary."

The ending has been criticized as being too upbeat. While I can see where that criticism comes from, it's important to remember that this is fundamentally a story about hope; the hope that we can, despite everything, learn to overcome our fears and look at each other with respect and dignity.

1 comment:

  1. It's a zombie movie that might make you feel squishy but under completely different circumstances. Totally not expecting that in the least-bit. Nice review S.J.


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