For our Halloween Google Hangout this month we discussed zombies.
But aren’t zombies on their way out?
We talked about that, but, the way the genre has been flexed, some really great story telling and creativity has been produced. And, as long as the story and characters are so intriguing, the audience will not get bored.
Monsters of all types, be it vampires, werewolves, or evil dead, explore the same human themes of identity, prejudice, and survival. With these themes, zombies have a more flexible mythology in which character stories of human interactions can be told and societal problems can be explored.
The dark comedy Breathers1, written by S.G. Brown, is set in a society where people who have died are randomly and inexplicably coming back to life. Besides their grotesque appearance and stench of rotting flesh, the zombies have thoughts, desires, and communication skills like the living.
Told from the perspective of a recently reanimated guy named Andy, the first half of the book trudges through the extent of zombie disenfranchisement in day-to-day life. It’s heavy handed with the social justice but I did enjoy the wry humor used to tell how the mistreatment of the zombie class didn’t get attention until it became profitable.
There’s also a little known cure for the zombie class but it involves one of the last remaining taboos in our society.
What do we do when faced with a seemingly impossible choice: continue subjugating a class or concede to the unthinkable?
“In spite of their failings and the fact that they were willing to sell off their son to settle a ten-thousand-dollar debt, they were my parents. And I feel like I’ve kind of failed them by killing them and stuffing them into the refrigerator.” –Andy in Breathers, Chapter 37, page 205.
At the beginning of the BBC drama, In the Flesh, the living have won the physical war against the zombies but now must deal with the social battle. With a regular inoculation, those infected with PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) are fully capable of returning to their homes and functioning normally, but the communities that lost loved ones in the gruesome war are too emotionally tainted to accept them.
How do we set aside fear and grief to reconcile with the face of our worst pain?
The zombies in Handling the Dead2, a novel by Swede John Ajvide Lindqvist, are more like the voodoo variety. Besides an instinct to return to their homes after coming back to life, they are barely animated at all. A story about non-threatening zombies is really a story about the grief process.
After a bizarre weather event, anyone who had died in the past two months was reanimated. For the families of these loved ones, their loss is still raw when they have to decide whether to live with the zombie loved one or lose them again to quarantine. Not only that, do you exhume loved ones who were buried?
Is the grief process a necessary step in human development?
Underlying most monster movies is the question–which is the true monster, the humans or the creatures of the night? No film deals with this better than 28 Days Later….
Twenty-eight days after the infection began, Jim wakes up in the hospital (ala Rick Grimes) and discovers the world has succumbed to the zombie apocalypse. He travels with Selena, a pragmatic cynic, to a location broadcast over the radio as a safe haven. Of course, what they find is not what was advertised.
Selena’s cynicism may have been brought on by the zombies but will the post-apocalypse humans change Jim’s optimistic outlook?
If you give up on humanity are you more like the zombies who simply eat to live?
“He was full of plans. Have you got any plans, Jim? Do you want us to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and fuck? Plans are pointless. Staying alive’s as good as it gets.” – Selena in 28 Days Later…
The dark rom-com, Warm Bodies, is told from the perspective of zombie, R, who doesn’t like who he is and would like to change. And what can inspire a young adult male more than a beautiful female who he saves from being eaten by a fellow zombie.
“What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead.” – R in Warm Bodies
The unusual act of a zombie saving her life opens Julie’s eyes to the possibility that the undead might not be totally undead on the inside. This is in complete contradiction to her vigilante father who kills zombies without impunity. Is it worth the risk for Julie to find out?
Can change be affected, even on a physical level, if a person were simply loved?
It might seem like a stretch to glean social messages from zombie movies but, really, that’s why we create stories about monsters—to express our struggle with identity and acceptance and to shed light on the injustices we see around us.
And because they’re freakin’ awesome.