Director: Jonathan Levin
Writers: Jonathan Levin(Screenplay) Issac Marion(novel)
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Nicholas Hoult, John Malkovich
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Romance
I’ve always been a big fan of the zombie genre, and I thought Zombieland was a brilliant and funny deconstruction of it. The 2013 film Warm Bodies (based off of the novel by Isaac Marion) turns out to be much more than a zombie movie or even a deconstruction of the genre. If you watch carefully, you realize it’s not about zombies at all, but redemption.
At first take, Warm Bodies starring Teresa Palmer and Nicholas Hoult seems like it’s about a typical trope played out in a lot of romantic comedies; Teen girl with daddy issues rebels, seeks adventure and a new way of life that is not the status quo, finds a “Jimmy Dean type”, gives middle finger to society and daddy. Well it is that, however, it’s set in the context of a Zombie apocalypse where the main crux of the film isn’t really about the two main characters falling in love, it’s about how they did and why. This isn’t a teenage zombie romance comedy. It’s much deeper, and much more rewarding, if very quirky. In the end, it’s almost the antithesis of a zombie film, which usually has unrelenting hopelessness as a theme.
The film starts off in the same kind of hip, ironic vein as Zombieland as we follow R (Nicholas Hoult, X-Men: First Class, About a Boy) on a characteristic day in the airport, which he and other zombies have haunted since a biological apocalypse separated humans, zombies, and even lower creatures called Bonies who have entirely given into their disease. The zombies sleepwalk through each day, mostly incapable of communication (except internally, as Hoult provides narration throughout the movie). On a foray in the city, R eats the brain of a young man on a mission from a walled-in city of humans, absorbing his memories. When he sees the young man’s girlfriend, Julie (Teresa Palmer, Wish You Were Here, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), R rescues her rather than eating her, but isn’t quite sure why. Could this moment be the hinge in which humanity reunites — or is R about to have his dead heart broken and face shot off by a Franci SPAS-12?(Mild tasting spoilers below)
The key moment in the film, in which its theme is ultimately revealed, takes place in a dream sequence about halfway through — although, to be honest, the direction of the film becomes apparent rather early. Zombies don’t dream, but as R begins to find love with Julie, and as Julie responds in friendship, it creates hope, and he starts transforming slowly back to human. R comes across Julie talking to her friend and her dead boyfriend in his first dream, and that Julie wants to save the world by “exhuming” the zombies.
It’s at this moment that the film’s nucleus becomes clear, and not with a great deal of subtlety, either. There is an analogy for sin, grace, and redemption — and not just for the sinners. Some of the zombies have become so bereft of hope that they became un-redeemable — the Bonies — and the others are so lost that they can’t communicate with each other and end up preying on the humans when they find them, just to get a “taste” of human contact. The humans who have not become infected have retreated behind high walls and defend themselves from any contact with the zombies/sinners, and will eventually get overwhelmed by the growing population of zombies, thus having little hope, either. The only way that the humans and zombies can save each other is to connect — and when R and Julie do, it sets off a chain reaction.
Warm Bodies doesn’t give this a religious frame, which is probably for the best given Hollywood’s management of religion in general, but anyone of faith or has studied the aspect will see the underlying message. Neither the faithful nor the sinners can stay alive without hope and love, and without expressing it to each other. Ultimately, humanity cannot be saved by pitted battles or by hiding behind thick walls, but by one act of love and charity at a time. And the power of just one act of love, in this case the sight of the two main characters holding hands, can transform the world.
On another note, this film also reveals some deep questions about our own society as of today. Are we too turning into zombies? I mean this not in the typical sense that we are literary hungry for people’s brains and want to eat them. Although I think we are somewhat close to that in a more vicarious way. Let me explain.
At the beginning of the film R- while stumbling around the airport- narrates his life as a zombie and all that he sees around him; people bumping into each other, not saying a word, not connecting, starring off into nowhere, a look of loss. R describes how he feels as a 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. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I mean, we’re all dead. This girl is dead. That guy is dead. That guy in the corner is definitely dead. Jesus these guys look awful.”-R
Then as R starts to imagine what life was like before the shit hit the fan; the scene slowly transitions of him as a normal person walking through that airport when life was normal-like in today’s world-. He ironically states that he imagines people “back then” were happy, connecting with one another, feeling, and interacting with each other all the time. However, the director carefully shows us a world (our world today) where hundreds of people in the airport are rushing around, everyone is looking down at their phones, bumping into each other without saying sorry, generally distracted by various stimuli, not connected on a human level; people look lost. This scene alone in the movie was brilliant and subtle and if you pay attention, there are many scenes throughout the film that provide this subtle commentary on society.
“I don’t wanna be this way. I’m lonely. I’m totally lost. I mean, I’m literally lost. I’ve never been in this part of the airport before.”-R
I think the makers of this film make the excellent point throughout that the zombies are no different than the humans, both in the film and in a metaphorical sense in real life. In the film, the way R and Julie truly connected was not through their phones, #tags, Twitter or any other form of digital interface; it was through doing the simplest of things like having a face to face interaction, listening to music together, and experiencing the world together in person. They were trapped inside a Boeing jet(R sort of lied and wanted to keep her company) for a couple days which required Julie and R to interact, ask each other questions and actually listen. Julie starts to like R (even though he is dead) because he was different from the rest of the herd, the zombies. He stood out so to speak. She couldn’t understand why he was so different from all the others; he was a zombie but acted as if he were human.
In our world today we all praise the idea of individuality, not conforming and being creative in life yet all we see is the exact opposite. You see it on social media sites where people post the same stuff that other people have already posted, where is the originality of thought? Social media was supposed to be a platform to express one’s self as an individual yet it has become a place to express one’s self as a part of the group.
How are we supposed to truly connect when we are only able to use 140 characters? People now a day, for the most part, live vicariously through others; other people’s dreams, ambitions, pictures and events. Just like how R in the movie lived vicariously through humans dreams by eating their brains; it was the only way he could feel alive again.
R and Julie changed their world because they were the only two who understood that following the group (whether it was R’s zombies or Julies humans) was a recipe for disaster, judgement, war, and misery. By uniting as one and showing each other that both groups can connect with one another they found out they had more in common with each other than ever thought. The movie says to humanity that we must wake up, and wake up soon so that we too do not become zombies and destroy ourselves.
Although the film did feature some good thematic songs to go with the themes in the movie(John Waite –Missing You, Your Love by The Outfield) I do however think Death by White Lies should have been in there since it screams doom and love all at once, just like this film.