It’s official: zombies are the new vampires. Okay, maybe this isn’t that big a revelation, since there have been literally hundreds of zombie movies, books, games and even anime offered in the past few years. There have been nazi zombies, time traveling zombies, snow zombies, smart zombies, dumb zombies, angry zombies, steampunk zombies, huge-chested females hunting zombies, zombie cops, and even a few zombie comedies. So is it any bigger a shock when the genre decides to push itself a bit more and create a zombie romance? Maybe if you’re a purist into the entire “undead have no identity or feelings” idea. But for the rest of us, we now have something new to “chow down” on.
Based on the novel of the same name, “Warm Bodies” is a new take on zombie mythology. While Romero built upon the older, prevailing notion of the animated dead, completely devoid of the sense of self and little more than walking corpses seeking to satisfy their eternal hunger, Warm Bodies decides to take the narrative in another, unexpected direction: it gives them a sense of humanity, no matter how buried under layer after layer of brains. While there is plenty of the aforementioned eating of the living throughout the film, it asks the question of “what if:” what if, rather than just being a walking corpse, the zombie is actually retains a bit of itself beyond the “grave;” what if the zombie becomes capable to emotion, feeling something “more” than just hunger and shambling; what if we “got it all wrong” in the end.
I’m getting ahead of myself again and waxing philosophical…need to stop that for the moment. Where was I?
Warm Bodies is the story of one zombie out of hundreds: a young male who has no idea who he is or where he came from, just that his name starts with “R.” He’s your typical undead: eat flesh, wander around aimlessly, and wonder about how everything changed. For the first act of the film, he is a silent narrator, pondering on and on about what it means to be a zombie, and asking if there is anything more to his seemingly monotonous existence. He has his “friends,” he has a “home,” and in many ways “lives” the same “life” he did before becoming a zombie. In many ways, he is reminiscent of the protagonist “Columbus” from the landmark “Zombieland” film: a boy at the crux of his young life, wondering what went wrong, and where to go from there, while being firmly fixed in the “unchanging here and now.”
Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?
His life changes the day he meets Julie, one of the survivors left on Earth and daughter of Colonel Riggio, the man who has kept humanity safe for the past 8 years in his walled mass of a city. While out looking for supplies, her team runs afoul of R and his mob of zombies, gunfire and feasting ensues, and in the midst of it all, R feels an emotion. Like the virus that changed him into one of the walking dead, it spreads first though him, then through those closest to him, giving them a taste of hope, and of a better “life” than what they have.
While the story itself is nothing new, and plays to the conventions of the genre rather closely, it is the idea that zombies can “revert” back to human that lends this story some metaphorical teeth. See, in this new take on zombie lore, the reasons why zombies go for the brain isn’t rooted in some primal fear revolving around the destruction of the self. Rather, it is the last chance they have to experience emotion. Eating a human’s brain gives them a chance to “experience” the memories of that person, and for a lifeless creature craving something more than shambles, it is their only resort. They’re not trying to obliterate the self, but rather are trying to remind themselves what it means to have (and lost) one. Wow, that’s pretty deep for a zom-com…
But there’s more. In the case of so many zombie films, the zombies themselves are often viewed as incarnations of personal fears: death, decay, rampant overconsumption, corporate control and the dictation of culture, nazis- the list goes on an on. But usually near the top is the fear of loss- in particular, the loss of self and self-identity. Slavery, if you will, be it to another person, a disease or something else. The loss of freedom, the loss of power, the loss of the ego itself, when the person becomes nothing more than a body without a “soul,” a “what” rather than a “who.” Perhaps more than the ravages of time or death itself, the loss of who one is inside might be the biggest fear we all have.
In the beginning, Warm Bodies is just that, a question about the loss of the self, and what the meaning of it all is. R can remember bits and pieces of what it means to be human, and wants more of them as time goes by, but he knows he’s stuck in a dead body endlessly repeating the same motions perpetually. After he meets Julie, R’s journey becomes less about becoming human, and more about regaining his lost identity. He collects things, and that allows him to make a connection with the girl. When he begins to dream, that’s a look inside what he wants. When he begins to speak, he’s finding his ability to communicate, and by extension, his ability to express, restored (beyond the “typical” grunts and groans). When he begins to feel…he remembers what it was like to be human again. Not because his life is being restored, but because his sense of self is being restored, and with it his ability to become more than a walking body. Again, wow…pretty deep for a zom-com.
Okay, philosophical ramblings out of the way. So how is the movie itself?
Yeah, because I have no idea what you’re going for here…
I really hate writing this, because I really enjoyed this film, but the trailer pretty much sums up the entire movie. Every major plot point, every revelation and summation of R’s trip is contained in those two minutes of film. The rest of the run time is icing to the cake. While R’s internal monologues are especially fun, and watching the budding relationship between human and zombie is both lighthearted and emotional, there are no surprise twists or turns, the ending is obvious within the first few minutes, and the “romance” itself evokes a bit of Twilight: it’s idealized, expected and fluffy. Hell, Teresa Palmer (as Julie) even looks and acts like Kristen Stewart, albeit with more ability and charisma towards her “dead boyfriend.” Maybe this was intentional, maybe not, but the idea that this movie is “zombie Twilight” isn’t that far off the mark.
Nevertheless, Warm Bodies is a solid date movie, and hella fun. If you’re one of those folk who love a good zombie yarn, this will satisfy you. If you like sweet teen comedies, this will satisfy you. If you like zombie philosophy (like me) this will definitely satisfy you. But if you’re a diehard zombie purist, look elsewhere. The brains you find here will not appease your hunger.
Addendum: I want to give kudos to a scene-stealing Rob Corddry. Usually I reserve these kudos for John Malkovich, but since he’s playing himself the entire time, it’s up to Corddry to ham it up and deliver the best performance in the film. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, then you’ll shoot him in the head…maybe.