An Essay On Zombies, and Then at the End There’s Some Rude Jokes About World War Z

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Hi everyone.

Well, the day finally arrived. The day I had been awaiting with bated breath. The day marked in my iCal as “WWZ!!!!!” I asked my old man “do you know what tomorrow is” and he said “midsummer!” and I said “no, you fool”

First, let me say that this entry contains spoilers. I am going to basically talk about every single thing that happens in the movie.

Second, let me tell you what I was excited about, in anticipating this movie, so that you can more fully understand what a let down it actually was. Telling you what I was excited about will amount to an essay-length pondering of the zombie genre in general–its history, interpretation, and evolution over time. So if you think that sounds boring, stop reading now and go see World War Z!!!

I was excited because it was the first true A-List zombie movie, and because I knew Brad Pitt had fought long and hard to get it made, and because I knew Max Brooks, who wrote the source material, is kind of a total weirdo, and all these facts intrigued me. I should have been more cynical about how many re-writes the script went through, how many times its release date was pushed back, how many screenwriters were hired to completely re-do the work of a previous screenwriter. I should have been concerned. But I wasn’t! “Who is the bigger fool, the fool or the fool who follows him?” I was excited because I thought, based on the preview, it might be the first zombie movie to really take a global perspective on the zombie apocalypse, and I thought that would be really cool, as usually in this genre part of the drama inheres in the characters having no idea what’s going on anywhere but where they happen to be when the S hits the F. The vague hope that somewhere, somehow, life is continuing like usual, and if you could just get there everything would be okay. In this movie I hoped those hopes would be dashed, and that in its bleak international picaresque it would be even bleaker than Z movies of the past. And of course I was excited about what looked to be a few interesting additions to the genre in terms of how zombies behave (the swarms, mainly (see above)).

I’ve spoken before about the rise of the fast zombie. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it makes for a more exciting film, on the surface, and of course it is an evolution in the genre that is very easy to ascertain the cultural subtext of (the internet), and I like to see our horror movies keep up with the times, as it were. On the other hand, there’s a cold, brutal dread surrounding the slow zombie that really disappears when they start running around like maniacs. To briefly recap:

Our monsters always tell us about who we are and what we’re afraid of. The vampire for example is an age-old monster who has changed dramatically with the times. At first, hundreds of years ago, the vampire was someone who had committed bad deeds in life, usually money-related, and/or someone who had committed suicide, and thus been buried in unconsecrated ground–ground not blessed or watched over by the Lord. Rising from the dead, it shambled back to the home it had known in life, preying parasitically on its kith and kin (just as it had done in life, by committing usury or other dastardly pre-capitalist money-grubbing operations). This vampire version activated anxieties about God and the afterlife, evil and sin, the parasitic possibilities inherent in financial transaction, and the question about whether evil might be transmitted through bloodlines–could a family be literally haunted by the evil deeds of its ancestors? Over time, the vampire, due to its parasitic lifestyle, started becoming a conglomeration of general xenophobia and racism directed at immigrants of all kinds, but mostly Jews. Later, in the 19th century, due to this guy John Polidori’s hatred of Lord Byron (long story), the vampire took on the aristocratic tendencies we now associate with it. Anxieties about class now enter into things. A monster with infinite financial reserves laying waste to a town’s upper-crust via thinly-veiled rapes against its virgin daughters, who, now either straight dead/undead OR “tainted” (read: made slutty) by the monster’s touch, are no longer fit to be married by good Victorian men, etc. etc. until Twilight, which, seriously, untangling everything that’s going on in Twilight, culturally-anxiously speaking, would take a whole book and I don’t have that kind of time.

All our monsters provoke a similar self-examination, provide a similar window into a time period or culture. Blair Witch Project worked on anxieties about the then-new reality TV phenomenon, the idea of cameras being in your face at all times, keeping actual reality at arm’s length. The werewolf is pure Freudian terror about the beast within that we all repress in order to have civilization. The mingled dread and exhilaration when we contemplate ripping all our clothes off and rutting out in the street and eating a goat with our bare teeth. Crucially, the werewolf doesn’t know he’s a werewolf–he wakes up in the morning NOT REMEMBERING the heinous bestial things he’s done under the light of the full moon (and people have always been stressed out by the full moon–I have seen medieval engravings of the moon’s rays physically entering the skulls of village women and turning them into witches or at the very least sluts). In the 50s it was all giant mutants caused by nuclear bomb radiation or radio waves from Mars–science stuff, Hiroshima stuff. I recently read about how American audiences watched Godzilla for fun, screaming and throwing popcorn, but Japanese audiences watched the film in silence, and left theaters in tears.

So, in light of the fact that the monster movie wears its cultural anxiety perhaps more blatantly on its sleeve than other cinematic genres do, I’ve always been interested in them. But the zombie movie really takes the cake, as far as me and my particular profile of interests are concerned. Because what I’m interested in isn’t just racism or class or sex but rather misanthropy itself, the hatred and fear of ALL PEOPLE, the IDEA of people, the whole enchilada, and there isn’t a more misanthropic genre than the zombie genre.

There were zombie movies before George Romero (they mostly involve Haiti and voodoo (“I Walked With A Zombie” is an especially weird one)), but they really don’t cohere into a genre concept until his Night of the Living Dead, released in the talismanic year of 1968. The year mass protests ignited the world; the year the individual was felt to be asserting itself against authority. The individual flexed its muscles; authority pushed back hard. Firehoses, dogs, tear gas. What everyone saw on TV during that time were hordes of people, people indistinguishable from one another, vast melées of human beings running, fighting, pushing cars over. Explosions, bombs, the first fully televised war. The march on Washington. Individuals were asserting themselves but they were doing it in these massive group movements, which was both exhilarating and sort of overwhelming, or even downright terrifying, depending on your political bent. Like anything, it had layers and complexity, these visions, this new consciousness. It had any number of dark sides. David Harvey points out that the countercultural attitudes of the 1960s actually accidentally helped to pave the way for the neoliberal ideology (and actual practices) in which we are now so hopelessly, hatefully mired. The belief in the intrinsic moral righteousness of individual liberty above all other considerations in some ways leads to a nation of single units, individuals alone, each with his or her own panoply of narcissistic interests, beliefs, musical tastes, social battles, etc. What does the lone individual feel about his or her compatriots, countrymen? Those others start feeling like faceless no-ones, pressing down from all sides, their very existence threatening your ability to lead the life you want to lead. Union becomes impossible–literally, unions started falling apart around the early 70s, helped along by rhetoric about personal choice and freedom propagated by major financial institutions. General progressive revolution becomes splintered and thus ineffectual–Black Panthers, feminists, commies, unions, gays, minorities, the poor, immigrants, various religious sects, all of us trapped in our own unique subject position, unable to forge the unity that would truly make us the 99%, an unstoppable force for change.

Added to this grim political death march you have the rise of a real mass culture, a consumer culture based on the acquisition of products marketed to these subject positions. Once you have an established idea of “mass culture,” then how easy it becomes to see yourself in opposition to it! I’m an individual, I make my own choices, so I wear this brand of shoes instead of that other brand everyone else wears. Splintered and sundered from one another, fighting desperately to assert our supposed individuality in the face of truly vast political and market forces we individually can make no impact upon, our consciousness becomes alienated from the human stream of life. Mass culture–the masses–starts seeming like an enemy. Your self-sufficiency, even your self-actualization as a conscious human, starts feeling threatened by the mere existence of everyone else. Overpopulation, as everyone knows, as everyone has been told with ever-increasing hysteria for the past several decades, is going to be the literal death of us. The planet groaning under the weight of all our combined bodies, crushed together in ever-denser urban centers, while everyone keeps popping out baby after baby after baby, babies who have an ever-increasingly slim chance of actually building any kind of a life for themselves, babies born into the debt-financed consumer culture global warming nightmare bequeathed to them by their parents and grandparents, etc. etc. etc.

So into this hodge-podge of just-burgeoning modern anxieties shambles the Romero zombie. What is this zombie? Well, at the individual level, it is perhaps first and foremost a CORPSE. A dead person still semi-ambulatory, although unlike the modern vampire it is soulless, mindless, its only animating impulse one of hunger. This is why the slow zombie strikes that cold icicle of dread into your gut when you consider it. Its death is emphasized by its slow, shambling struggle to move. This was once a person, like you, but it is no more. It is a person made Other by death (Julia Kristeva is my favorite philosopher when it comes to this stuff–the Abject, the corpse which is us-but-not-us, that which causes us to shrink away in a disgust that is more than disgust, that is really a Freudian-uncanny soul-deep horror of RECOGNITION, the presence of something infinitely familiar but long-repressed–that corpse was once me, and one day I shall be it. Corpses and poop, really, kudos to Julia Kristeva for writing a whole book about corpses and poop).

The slow zombie is easy to kill, but the point of these movies is that you can’t kill EVERYONE. Everyone is a zombie; the zombie is everywhere; the zombie IS THE PEOPLE. Individually they may be easy to kill, but in their mass togetherness, their single-minded focus, they are unstoppable. United they stand. But they can be seen as a fear of the masses and of mass culture, OR in my opinion they can also represent the horror of the mindlessness of capitalism and the free market. David Harvey also talks about how the financial elite of the world have learned to act as a class, united by the sole interest of BUSINESS, and that that is why they will always beat the rest of us, as we are all fighting amongst ourselves about all manner of other issue. The Business Class cares nothing about gay or straight, abortion or no abortion, it cares nothing for God or the Devil, it cares only about the ideal conditions for the generation of capital. This makes it unstoppably powerful. Harvey contends that the entire rest of the world, literally everyone who is not a millionaire, needs to start thinking of itself, together, as a class, and that only then will real revolution happen. So I think we can read the zombies in both ways. Us vs. Them is actually complicated because which is which? Am I us or am I them? Am I afraid of the business class or are they afraid of me, or is every person just afraid of the concept of humanity, generally?

So the zombies, united by a single shared purpose and a lack of any individual desires or considerations, encroach from all sides, and you can only machete so many of them in the head before one of them gets through to you, and then it’s curtains for you. The survivors, splintered from one another into little pods fighting for the basic essentials of life–helicopter fuel, food, a few hours of safe sleep–are menaced, constantly and unrelentingly, by the hordes upon hordes of what had once been their countrymen, their neighbors, their husbands and wives. The zombie movie is like “et tu Brutus” or whatever, over and over again. The horror of watching your dad or your friend or this soldier you thought would save you, the HORROR of watching them TURN. They leave you behind, isolated in your lonely individuality, as they slip into the mass unconsciousness. In the zombie movie, what’s really happening is that the increasingly small group of survivors is fighting desperately and with all their energy to REMAIN INDIVIDUALS. This is the anxiety that generates scenes like in Dawn of the Dead, when the survivors are sort of comically clearing the zombies from the shopping mall and sort of having fun with it, or in the D of the D remake, when for fun they go sit on top of the mall and take turns calling out celebrity lookalikes in the seething horde below, and then picking them off with high powered rifles and laughing. Re-emphasizing over and over again that THEY aren’t people, those simulacra below, but I AM, and I REMAIN SO. When of course that’s not the case–the anxiety exists for the very reason that those zombies ARE people. We always hate that which is closest to us, most like us. Freud calls this the “narcissism of minor differences.” And acknowledging that is too much for even the most circumspect survivor to contend with, intellectually. It would entail a soul-searching, a self-confrontation, on a profound level. What exactly differentiates me from them? The answer is, fundamentally, not much. I may wear Converse while they wear Nike but really it’s all just brands, and anyway didn’t Nike BUY Converse? So now we’re ALL wearing Nikes OH MY GOD

Romero’s social commentary is obvious and wry. In Dawn of the Dead, the survivors are trapped in a shopping mall, where they continue the routines of modern middle class life–they try on clothes and pick out jewelry, they eat steaks from the freezer, they sleep in brand new beds, they drink fancy booze and have parties with each other–while outside, the faceless hordes press unfalteringly against the walls, wanting in, wanting to return to those air-conditioned galleries of consumables they were habituated to mindlessly wander through in life. Romero gives us this delightful silly image of all these zombies, finally breaching the mall’s defenses (helped by a crew of Hell’s Angels who don’t give a fuck about anything, also very telling, the enemy within, the disunity of the remaining individuals), staggering around past all the stores, wandering in and out of the Sunglasses Hut or whatever, all dressed in their themed clothes–Little League zombie, bride zombie, Hare Krishna zombie, even skateboard zombie. It’s a joke, it’s a rude middle finger to consumer culture and to all the rest of us “sheep” who allow ourselves to fall into its ruts and be seduced by its glossy lies. The survivors ultimately turn out to be not much different than the zombies–everybody wants to hang out in the same shopping mall. The final scene shows the hero and pregnant heroine fleeing the zombies, but there is also this sense of relief at fleeing THE MALL ITSELF, like now we can start truly living, even if it just means dying. The final lines of that movie, as they fly the helicopter into parts unknown, are something like “how much fuel do we have” and she says “not much” and that’s the end.

Where can they go, with not much fuel? Is there still a place that isn’t infested with the mindless masses? The zombie movie has this undercurrent of longing, this wholehearted desire to GET SOMEWHERE WHERE THERE ARE NO PEOPLE. In the Dawn of the Dead remake, our survivors end up on a motorboat, dying of thirst, putting around in the ocean, just trying to find a place where they can chill out for awhile. They find a bigger boat–nope, there are zombies on it. They find what looks like a deserted island. Please god, could this be a place where no people ever were? Nope, such a place does not exist, woe, and the zombies come from all over, ravening, sprinting mobs. The motorboat is out of gas. We hear gunshots, and the screen goes dark. That is a rad ending.

28 Days Later, in my opinion the greatest zombie movie ever made, has this marginally hopeful ending where they go to a deserted forest mountaintop and it’s this huge relief of getting up and away from people, from populated areas, into the trees and meadows and clean air, where they can finally get some fucking sleep. Or that scene where they’re watching the horses run and it’s so sad yet so awesome, so nice to see animals minding their own beeswax without people around. 28 Days Later also has the really excellent added element of The Enemy Within, like you think nothing could be more horrible than the zombies but then when they get to the army compound, nope, it’s actually worse. And it gets very interesting, because at that point, Jim, the hero, seems to sort of merge with the zombies, to get into their vibe, and that’s what helps him conquer the army guys. Jim, gaunt, besmirched, barefoot, and shirtless, first camouflages himself in a pile of corpses, and then moves, silent and zombie-like, almost joining with the massed hordes as he helps them infiltrate the compound. We end up feeling compassion for the zombies, who are being picked off for fun by all these drunk crazy rapists. It matters that Christopher Eccleston is ultimately bested not by our hero but by the zombie former-comrade who he’s kept chained up and taunted in the yard. Is this the first time the Us vs. Them nature of the zombie movie has been complicated in this way? It’s like Danny Boyle and Alex Garland (who, never forget, wrote The Beach) are peeling back a layer, and reminding us of what these movies help us forget–that the zombies are US. Someone made them the way they are, but it wasn’t their fault, and “we” are more like “them” than we may choose to believe. What is worse than being a member of mass culture? Being a part of the military complex that keeps the masses docile and protects market interests, maybe. Who is more inhuman? The mindless zombies, or the army guys who think it’s funny to use them for target practice, these sad shambling entities who were once someone’s mother, someone’s son? And then in light of this, the marginally hopeful ending, where they’re relaxing in nature and then a military jet flies by and dips its wing at them, like, don’t worry guys, I see you and am coming to the rescue…well, in light of what happened at the army compound, this ending is perhaps a bit more anxious than it ought to be. Is the jet going to take them to yet another army compound? Maybe it’s better to stay out here with the zombies, who we at least UNDERSTAND.

28 Days Later is also interesting because (a) I believe it’s the first fast-zombie movie and (b) I also believe it’s the first one where it’s made explicit that scientists accidentally created the zombie plague in the first place, in an effort to find a great military weapon. Boom.

Okay so. Due to all of this stuff, I was very excited about World War Z. I thought the idea of trying to truly depict the global zombie apocalypse, in terms of countries talking to each other, “Russia’s gone dark,” that sort of thing, looked promising. The lone individual helpless in the face of the rampaging swarms of humanity threatening him from all angles, no sanctuary even to be found on the high seas, etc. But the problems with World War Z are deep and troubling, and really it betrays its genre in a lot of what I think are crucial ways.

It opens solidly, with the classic stuff where we just get hints of news broadcasts and maybe a few too many helicopters in the air. Brad Pitt and his wife Mireille Enos (the badass from “The Killing”) and their two annoying children have a nice life making pancakes and loving each other. One daughter has asthma, a plot point I thought was going to be a big deal but never was. Another daughter establishes through childlike questions that Brad Pitt was once some sort of fancypants U.N. soldier but has now given it up to be a family man. Already I am kind of chuckling, having been trained to think of the UN as just as ineffectual as the rest of the world thinks it is. UN soldier! Ha ha. Oops, turns out I was wrong to laugh, because Brad Pitt is apparently such a great UN soldier that the government of America sends a helicopter to rescue him and his family because he is the only man who can save us or something. Brad Pitt figures out that if you get bitten by a zombie and count to ten and still haven’t turned into a zombie you’re probably fine. (I would here submit that I don’t totally love it when characters in a zombie movie actually use the word “zombie.” I kind of want each zombie movie to exist in a vacuum where no one in the movie has heard of zombies before. “Zombie” just sounds so stupid when somebody says it to a military general). He drives an RV to a pharmacy where everyone is looting, and he sees a cop but instead of helping the cop is just looting like everybody else. Is Brad Pitt the only good man left in America? Answer: yes, except for this one guy in South Korea and a sad man in Jerusalem who delivers a really weird speech about the nine men who control all of Israel.

So anyway, there’s a great opening sequence. Zombie mob! Car crash! Asthma attack! Flight up steps of darkened New Jersey apartment building, let inside by family of Mexicans. UH OH, Mexicans, this isn’t going to turn out well (for the Mexicans). So Brad Pitt is calmly talking to the parents, who don’t speak English, but their little son Tommy translates. How much do you want to bet that the parents will make a bad decision that will get them killed? They don’t even speak English! Of course they can’t accept what bold strong American Brad Pitt is saying to them. The son, translating, is comically disappointed that his father refuses to go with Brad Pitt, as indeed it is very normal for children to immediately side with strangers against their own parents. So the Pitt family leaves and goes up on the roof where a helicopter is going to pick them up, and Tommy’s family gets eaten by zombies, but Tommy escapes and makes it into the helicopter after all, because he speaks English and thus has a leg up in this crazy world. After this, not a single mention is ever made about how Tommy was just chased onto a roof by his mother and father trying to eat him and then watched them get machine gunned by the American military.

They fly out to these aircraft carriers in the ocean where there’s military guys and refugees. To make a long story short(er), Brad Pitt (whose name is Gerry) and his boss (whose name is Terry, just saying) survey all the carnage on TV screens and then Terry is like, “Gerry, that man is from Harvard and he is our best hope” and Brad Pitt is like “but Terry he’s just a kid” and that’s how we know this Harvard egghead is about to accidentally shoot himself in the face because he’s never held a gun before, leaving Brad Pitt to solve the global zombie plague on his own using good ol’ common horse sense, the kind you don’t need Harvard to teach you about.

Pre-accidental face-shooting, Terry forces Gerry to help the Harvard guy by re-joining the UN or something and going on this one last great mission, because he’s such an asset because he did a good job that time in Liberia, and this is like that time (???). Gerry says “my family” a couple times but Terry is like ” Gerry, if you don’t do it I’ll murder them” (exaggeration) and so Brad Pitt and his wife cry and hug each other and that’s that, off he goes to South Korea for reasons unclearly stated, with a literally absurdly small team, it’s like six guys, like couldn’t you send just a FEW MORE GUYS on this mission that is supposedly the last hope of humanity?

On the nearly-empty airplane, the Harvard brainiac, still pre-face-shooting, delivers an actually insane person monologue about how Mother Nature is a bitch and a serial killer and her biggest strength often turns out to be her biggest weakness, a speech Brad Pitt will later remember in reverbed flashback while looking at the stump of an Israeli soldier’s arm he’s just bandaged on a plane that’s about to crash, and this will help him solve a problem the world’s epidemiologists have been working on for weeks to no avail. Fair enough! He does seem like a smart guy, plus if the movies have taught us anything it’s that if you REALLY REALLY REALLY want to save your family you can do anything.

So they get off the plane (the first plane, not the one that crashes later) in South Korea and there’s zombies everywhere and then the guys at the army base there tell them some information that will prove useful later, and Brad Pitt talks to David Morse, who is a CIA spy who has all his teeth pulled out and says that’s how North Korea is surviving the epidemic, something something. Brad Pitt’s stupid wife calls him on the cell phone at a totally pivotal moment (so glad this world-renowned military genius left his ringer on during a super tense maneuver, BTW), a couple people sacrifice themselves heroically, and now it’s off to Jerusalem for some reason!

In Jerusalem, everything is fine! OOOhhh what does it mean. People are still walking around listening to iPods and carrying briefcases, a sight which dazzles the eye of poor Brad Pitt who just saw like three different cities get essentially razed to the ground by zombie apocalypse and military response to zombie apocalypse. Why is Jerusalem doing so good? Because, as some guy tells him, they finally learned the lesson of the Holocaust, which is that if you receive an anonymous email from someone in India with the word “zombie” in it, you instantly build a huge fortified wall. The guy takes Brad Pitt on a tour, where he sees that they are letting refugees into the city through checkpoints. “You’re letting people IN?” he says in disbelief (due to the admittedly horrendous safety issues presented by basically opening up big doors in this great wall, while outside literally millions of zombies are ranging wildly around in a really wonderful shot that was probably my favorite shot in the film), and then the guy says, and I quote: “EVERY HUMAN BEING WE SAVE IS ONE WE DON’T HAVE TO FIGHT”

!!!!!!!!!!!

So much politically garbled nonsense going on! So first of all, I thought the isolationism of Jerusalem was going to be presented as a problem, like how dare you build a wall around yourselves and not help anybody else, but it wasn’t, it was presented as smart, and also like it didn’t conflict with them helping other people, even though early on there’s a part where somebody is like “leave it to the Israelis to not tell the rest of us about zombie apocalypse.” Second of all, the film was very careful to show us that the city was letting people in indiscriminately–Palestinian flags and hijab were just as present in the crowds as Israeli flags and those dudes with the hair curls, which, I’m sorry, but I AM SO SURE that the nation of Israel would just be like “come, all ye in need, come to the safety of these walls, we care not for color or creed.” To quote John Wayne, “That’ll be the day.”

Look over here, Brad Pitt, people are praying to the wailing wall, while right next to them a bunch of Muslims are bowing to Mecca! This truly is a wonderful multi-cultural sight. So wonderful, in fact, that some of the refugees–an explicitly mixed group of Palestinians and Israelis, I love that all these refugees are like “wait, before I flee zombie apocalypse I definitely need to grab my national flag and put it on a stick–starts singing a song of togetherness and joy, now that they are finally in a safe place away from the zombie hordes. The song grows louder and louder as everyone joins in. Jews and Muslims, holding hands and singing together! Everyone is smiling. Someone picks up a microphone, so the song can get louder. Feedback starts squealing. The song of togetherness and multicultural human joy is amplified, projected outward, ever outward–OH NO! “It’s too loud!” Brad Pitt yells, as he recently learned zombies are drawn to noise, “IT’S TOO LOUD!” But he’s too late. The zombies outside, driven into a rage by the song of togetherness, immediately breach the walls and Jerusalem is destroyed in a pretty amazing set piece that’s worth watching the movie to see.

That is literally what happens. When will Israel learn? Don’t be so nice to those Palestinians! LOL

Brad Pitt is being rushed to his airplane by this badass Israeli soldier who’s just killing zombies left and right like no biggie. That’s when one bites her and in a fit of intuition Brad Pitt hacks off her hand and she’s like “WHAT!” The plane takes off without them, so they flag down this commercial airliner that’s trying to leave. The pilots let them on through a trapdoor in the cockpit, and there is a very careful, intentional shot of the pilots relieving them of their guns and dumping the guns out onto the runway. No guns allowed on planes, because of Obamacare! You know what that means….”when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will be able to shoot zombies on an airplane.” In this case “outlaw” means “Israeli soldier who still had a gun in her pants thank god”

Everyone on the plane is like “HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE ALL THAT SHIT THAT JUST WENT DOWN” and then they all fall asleep. Brad Pitt washes his hands with vodka and bandages up the Israeli soldier’s arm stump and she’s like “are you a doctor” and he’s like “no” and everyone in the theater laughed. That’s when he has his aural flashback to the Harvard egghead saying that Mother Nature’s biggest strength is also her biggest weakness–which, I’m sorry, but what the fuck does that even mean–and he remembers seeing a little bald kid in Jerusalem and all the zombies just ran right past him, and that’s when he solves the epidemic in his mind, but if he could just get to the World Health Organization headquarters in Cardiff, Wales!!! He tells the pilot to go there and the pilot is like “ok.” Then zombies break out on the plane and everyone is turning into a zombie and the Israeli soldier wakes up from having her arm sawed off and shoots a bunch of them and then luckily Brad Pitt sees she has a grenade so he’s like “here goes nothing” and throws the grenade and so the entire half of the plane is blown off and every single person–zombie or otherwise–in the plane goes shooting off into space, and the plane crashes, and Brad Pitt and the soldier survive and then they just walk up to the WHO headquarters that are like half a mile away from the crash site, like I’m so glad zombie apocalypse waited like SEVEN HOURS apparently before breaking out on that plane that was flying to Wales from ISRAEL

but whatever, that’s fine

they hobble into the WHO and the WHO guys are like “wtf” and then Brad Pitt says “I’m pretty sure the zombies ignore people who have terminal illnesses because I saw a bald kid not get eaten by zombies one time and maybe he had cancer” and they are like “it’s so crazy it just might work, the only problem is all our horrible viruses are in this one vault that’s now filled with zombies” and Brad Pitt is like “me and this one-armed soldier and this other guy will go in there” and everyone’s like “ok go team” and they go, but they get split up, and so ultimately obviously Brad Pitt has to do it all by himself, and there are a lot of chills and thrills but then finally he’s trapped in the vault while a zombie that looks like William Fichtner but isn’t is ramming his head into the door à la the great final sequence of Night Of The Living Dead and Brad Pitt is in the vault with all these viruses, and no way to communicate with the actual scientists who are watching him on security cameras and saying things to each other like “no not that one, he’ll die instantly if he uses that one” etc., like why didn’t they discuss this just a little bit beforehand, like couldn’t they have at least given him a list of which viruses he might try? So he grabs one at random and injects it into himself not even knowing what it is, like maybe it’s ebola (and p.s. it’s lucky there was a drawer full of loose syringes in the virus storage vault, like maybe scientists sometimes are like “fuck this, I’m not carrying the virus back to the lab, I’ll just stick it in the rat here in the storage area”), and then he opens the door and the zombie ignores him. HORSE SENSE!

Now Brad Pitt, infected with AIDS or something, goes triumphantly down the hall, zombies ignoring him, and LITERALLY STOPS AND THERE IS A CLOSE UP OF HIM DRINKING A PEPSI. And then he drops a bunch of Pepsi cans and the zombies come running and he walks through them–against the current, if you will–back to safety, where he is given a shot of something that apparently counteracts whatever terminal illness he injected himself with.

The ending of the film shows all these different shots of people getting injections/being ignored by zombies, intercut with scenes of various military literally luring millions of zombies into places like football stadiums and then blowing them up with bombs. And everyone is like “WE DID IT!!!”

It’s crazy.

It’s all about the triumph of the human spirit, which is obviously the ultimate cinematic cliché, but the problem is that that cliché DOESN’T WORK with the zombie genre, because zombies ARE human. Theirs is also a human spirit that is triumphing! Usually whatever tepid “triumph” is present in a good z movie is this sort of deeply contradictory idea of the last shreds of individuality staying barely one step ahead of mass assimilation. In a good z movie, it’s not like the glorious human spirit uses its scientific ingenuity to blow up every other American citizen with a nuclear bomb and that’s great and life is precious and god and the bible. So if it’s like Brad Pitt’s noble individual human spirit triumphs–OVER OTHER HUMANS–and that’s presented unproblematically, like there actually just are some people who are more individual than others, then I just don’t know…there wasn’t a single moment of dread or horror at the fact that zombies used to be people, like there isn’t a single classic scene where somebody’s husband suddenly becomes a zombie and they have to kill him. There is no emphasis of the zombies’ previous humanity at all (or, for that matter, of the fact that they are dead, so there’s no “soon I too shall join you” undercurrent like in a good z movie). So really it’s not “human” spirit triumphing, it’s the triumph of….what? American masculinity? Military know-how? Science? The individual? Were all the non-zombies on that plane Brad Pitt blew up not individuals? Nothing really fits, and it leaves you so hollow, and not the good kind of hollowness you feel at the end of Dawn of the Dead, but the bad kind, where you feel like you got ripped off yet again by the culture industry. Drink Pepsi and the masses will part around you like water. Blow up your fellow human beings with bombs and then high-five each other. The nuclear family is saved from the mobs of anti-social anti-government weirdos. Isolationism is good; by betraying its isolationism, Jerusalem falls. Eggheads from Harvard can’t help us, only good decent hard-working horse sense can. Global institutions–the UN, the WHO, the military–are what save humanity after all–rather than what gets us into this mess in the first place, as they are in some z movies and certainly in most plague movies. Individuals are stupid and crazy but these organizations maintain discipline and everything works out, and good thing we kept a vault full of smallpox after all, in spite of international protests against biological warfare. Oh also, if you don’t speak English you will be eaten by zombies and your child will be raised by white people.

Brad Pitt is very handsome, and that night after the movie I dreamed I was having a really sexual affair with him and Angelina Jolie was talking to me sadly about it, like “sisters don’t do that to each other” and I was like “I have betrayed my beliefs but it was worth it because I had sex with Brad Pitt”

Thank you. Up next will be my reading of the poster for “Oblivion.”

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9 Responses to An Essay On Zombies, and Then at the End There’s Some Rude Jokes About World War Z

  1. Eileen says:

    That was fucking awesome. You need a book deal.

    Also, I heard that the WWZ movie was v different from the novel because the novel is done from the POV of A Journalist (Journalist Brad Pitt? That seems off w ref to this synopsis) writing first-hand accounts etc. Obvs this doesn’t combat the things you find problematic, but it might be interesting to read the book & compare.

  2. ericka says:

    Oh goodness, you really really need to read WWZ. I mean, like, stop whatever you are doing and sit down and read it. I barely recognize it as the source of this mostrosity (ha!) you here describe.

    1. The very specific thing about Israel and the walls and the checkpoints, YES, that’s in the book. It’s as if you described some other undead-apocalypse movie and I would say, “Oh, they stole that thing about Israel from WWZ.”

    2. I actually sat down here and typed out a long list of ways in which the book improves on your very specific criticisms, and then I reminded myself that I just told you to drop what you are doing and read it, and I don’t want to take away your enjoyment. I will just tell you instead that

    3. I have a friend who works for the Foreign Service and she read WWZ when she first was going through Being A Diplomat 101 or whatever they call that, and because of the particularly awesome way that the book is written (AND because of its global focus), she said that she kept being tempted to say in seminars things like, “Welllllllllll, if fighting the global zombie epidemic has taught us anything, it’s that……” (Her telling me this was what made me want to read this book in the first place.)

    4. Hey, remember how good it was reading The Passage for the first time?

  3. Alex says:

    My favorite zombie movie/book is The Road because there are no zombies, just TOTALLY FUCKED humans.

    I’ve yet to see 28 Days Later, though I should, right?

  4. Jerem says:

    Have you seen In the Flesh on BBC America yet? It has a whole new perspective on how to treat the Zombie genre. I’m enjoying it thoroughly.

  5. B C says:

    There were some comedic elements that I don’t think were meant to be comedic, which was unfortunate: eg, the aggressive chomping + sound effects, and then the supposedly sinister chattering during the vault stand-off. Did you notice the hilariously abrupt editing job where they go from the crazed zombie chase to that women in the monitor room mundanely saying, “Ok, Gerry, let’s see where you’re at…” Only improved if there had been a literal screen wipe! It’s nice to know at the end of all things we’ll look like we’re in a cool Land’s End catalog shot.

  6. Tom Thornburg says:

    Love this piece. Agree completely about 28 Days Later. This film disintegrated when the zombies took Jerusalem. Everything afterwards just seemed like a race to end the film. When the plane crashed within walking distance of the WHO site in Cardiff my movie-going companion and I turned and laughed out loud to each other. Sigh.

  7. Pingback: Great zombie essay — Phil Tucker

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