Take That, Mayans! Warm Bodies Reverses the Zombie Trend (Part 1 of 2)
Everyone who’s hip with the internet jive is by now so tired of the mere idea of walking corpses that the thought of going to a movie theater to watch dead, shuffling masses is cause for near riot. Oh, and they’re sick of zombie movies too.
So when the film Warm Bodies hit theaters, most folks were pretty skeptical. For those not familiar, I’ll give you a basic rundown: Humanity has, for the most part, become zombified. But this film is different in that the zombies still hold on to loose facsimiles of their daily routines, just with more moaning and shambling about. In addition, these zombies are driven to specifically eat brains, because eating the brains gives the zombie a glimpse of their victims’ past memories. The film focuses on one young zombie, played by Nicholas Hoult, whose inner monologue orchestrates the film. When he eats the brains of one freedom fighter, he gains the poor guy’s memories including those of his girlfriend, fighting beside him. Stirred by these new feelings, the zombie goes in to put the moves on the gun-toting gal, played by Teresa Palmer. She responds by stabbing him in the chest. Romance ensues.
I myself might not have bothered seeing it had it not been billed as an absolute mockery of the Twilight love story arc–A love between a supernatural male and human female, unsustainable and ill-advised, but unstoppable. And in fact, Warm Bodies does take a few moments here and there to poke fun at itself in self-aware fashion. The romance, however, is secondary to the theme. Though the dead-boy-meets-girl premise is what draws the audiences in, what causes them to stay is the absolute overturning of the genre.
To understand how the film does this, we have to go back and look at monster movie archetypes as a whole. This is a concept that has been repeatedly covered in depth, and so I’ll just briefly touch on the main points. We know what each of the movie monsters represent: Godzilla represents a fear of nuclear weapons, King Kong represents our own hubris regarding the natural world, vampires represent fear of oversexualization of society, Frankenstein’s monster and The Fly are a fear of technological advancement, and werewolves a fear of our own animal, violent tendencies. Zombies, of course, represent the most relevant fears of the age: overpopulation, homogeny, fear that our fellow humans will turn on us, and fear that our society will fail, quickly and unexpectedly, due to factors beyond our control in spite of technological advancement. Ultimately, it’s a fear trend that can be seen through factors as broad as bipartisan politics or as simple as the increased gun sales of your local pawn shop. There are many factors involved but the ultimate indication as clear.
However, zombie films are different from the other genres, in that each of the others has experienced some kind of reversal. Think about films like Underworld, Daybreakers, Teen Wolf, and the 1998 Godzilla reboot. Think about television shows like Once Upon A Time and The Vampire Diaries. There are dozens of examples I could name, but the point is each of these movie monsters is in some way exonerated or expanded. The relative quality of the film aside, I remember feeling pangs of sadness when Godzilla and his (her?) babies were killed (even though half of Manhattan was destroyed) simply because rather than a destructive behemoth, this was a creature created by humans seeking to eke out its own living and have a family, a perfectly natural and understandable desire. Movies like Teen Wolf and Van Helsing show how misunderstood, yet useful, werewolves can be. Vampires, of course, have the largest plethora of reversal examples, from Blade and Vampire Hunter D to, yes, Twilight. Turns out we like sex… a lot.
But zombies are a set whose fears are difficult to reverse, simply because of what that reversal would suggest. First, it would suggest that most other people aren’t horrible, not an easy concept in film. Second, it would suggest that we, as a society, needed some kind of reaffirmation that other people aren’t horrible. That would indicate that our view of humanity would be pretty bleak indeed.
But aren’t we forgetting how awful the last few years have been, in general? Five, even ten years ago it was easy to complain about “the masses,” bitch about how stupid people were, and even use the term “sheeple” unironically. The economy crashed, politics became less about progress and more about winning, rational discourse showed itself to the toilet to be flushed. Trolling became not just accepted practice, but encouraged. It wasn’t enough to say “we’re growing more cynical,” the motto of the time was “if you’re not cynical, you’re an idiot begging to be screwed by a population that is.” That was around the time that young people around the world thought it was cool and quirky to begin designing “zombie plans,” viewing daily society through all but the most cynical lens possible. In a post-9/11 world still feeling the sting of extreme security measures and not one but two unending wars, there didn’t seem to be many bright spots and apocalypse seemed inevitable at some point or another. Society was sick, we reasoned. There was no quick and easy solution to fix it, and so it just seemed simpler to start from scratch. It seemed the only thing that made sense: Despite technology and science being at their height, nobody seemed very happy about it, to say the least. Rapture dates came and went like fashion trends; it was kind of inevitable to fall into an “all for naught” sort of mindset. “After all,” we’d joke to one another, “the world’s ending in 2012 anyway.” And so we only let the problem fester.
And though no one (at least, no sane person) believed that December 21st meant the end of the world, it was almost as though the year 2012 was to be spent in a state of suspension, not moving toward any sort of great success, accepting failures quietly. It was a year everyone would have been happy to see walk out the door, had we been able to muster up enough energy to feel joy.
But, as December 21st came and went, so too did the haze of ennui surrounding the minds of American twenty- and thirty-somethings. Or at least, it began to.
As we realized we were still here, and here indefinitely, the lifeless minds began to stir, and hearts began to beat in rhythm with one another once again. Oh look, a parallel! But more on that later.
I predict a dramatic change over the next two years in terms of how our apocalypse movies are portrayed. Yes, there will be residual big-budget thrillers with the same amount of grating lassitude; the Hollywood film system is a slow lumbering machine at best. But we’re humans, we’re at the top of the food chain, inventors of the selfie, the Kickstarter, and the maple bacon sundae. We are way too varied and awesome to wallow in self-pity like some sexless, drugless Foucaultian nightmare. I predict that future destructo-films will be less helpless desolation and more humanity pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, inventing some badass machinery, and getting the job done in a blaze of glory.
Incidentally, is anyone else really excited for Pacific Rim to come out?
This article was originally published on Atheiatrical.