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Posts Tagged ‘Zombies’

Marc Forster’s zombie thriller “World War Z” has been available for viewing for a while — I probably can’t say too much that hasn’t already been said.  But I did have three particular thoughts I wanted to share.

1. The Westward Journey

brad-pitt-world-war-zAs former U.N. employee Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) sets off on a globe-encompassing journey to find the antidote to the sudden zombie plague overtaking humanity, we notice that his trajectory leads unfailingly westward — from Korea to Israel to Wales.

The archetypal westward journey has always intrigued people, as the west — the direction of the setting sun — has traditionally been associated with death.

Sure enough — SPOILER ALERT — Lane does have an encounter with death by the end.  He must enter into the very center of the zombie “infestation” of a Welsh laboratory in order to procure an antidote that could save mankind.

Christ_Carrying_the_Cross_1580The Christ reference here is obvious.  Jesus Christ’s was the definitive Westward Journey.  He conquered evil by journeying into the very heart of darkness and death itself (much to the surprise of those who expected Israel’s Messiah to be more of a military conqueror).

2. Israel’s Wall

Film-Speedy Zombies

I was also fascinated by the fact that Israel knew about the oncoming zombie plague before the rest of the world, and accordingly prepared itself.

Just as “World War Z” envisions a zombie plague infecting all of humanity, the Old Testament draws attention to the universal plague of sin.  Furthermore, just as Israel gets a heads-up about the zombie epidemic and builds a defense against the onslaught in “World War Z,” God elects Israel and gives it His divine laws so as to make them holy in the Old Testament.

But ultimately, the zombies make it over Israel’s wall.  In the same way, the preparatory Mosaic Law given to Israel could not take away sin.  That took an act of God, who undertook a self-effacing journey into death like that of Gerry Lane.

3. Noise

zombieFinally, the notion that zombies are attracted by noise was, at the very least, intriguing.

I don’t think there’s any way around it: We are a culture of noise.  Between iPads, televisions, blasting car stereos, busy traffic, and our many other sources of auditory overkill, silence has become a rare commodity indeed.

Color me extreme, but I think we could say that noise has a way of “attracting” the enemies of mankind — namely, the devil and his minions.  Let me explain: When we don’t make sufficient room for silence, reflection, and introspection, when we distract ourselves too much with useless noise, then bad influences can creep into our lives without our even realizing it.

To be sure, there is also such a thing as too much silence, and the devil can use that against us as well.  But frankly, I don’t think our culture has that problem.  I think, rather, that it stands in need of rediscovering the legitimate function of silence.

But that’s a whole different post.  Thanks for reading.

Other reviews:

Image of “Christ Carrying the Cross” by El Greco from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search.

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sixthsense

The Sixth Sense (1999)

On Tuesday I shared a link to an article by Meg Kinnard that explores the recent zombie trend in light of society’s overall discontent (if you are interested, here is the link to Kinnard’s article: http://tv.yahoo.com/news/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-society-unhappy-092912860.html).

When I read the article, I immediately thought of another popular breed of supernatural creatures in movies, on television, etc. — ghosts.

americanhaunting

An American Haunting (2005)

If you can imagine a hypothetical coin for a moment, picture a zombie head on one side.  Then imagine flipping the coin over to reveal the tail-end of a ghost.

Zombies and ghosts are two sides of the same coin.  A zombie is a body without a soul, and a ghost is a soul without a body.  Both speak to the same fear that lurks deep in every person’s very bones: death.  The separation of the body and the soul is, after all, what death is.

So I got to asking myself whether we have seen any ghost trends in film or television in recent years.  Well, in fact, we have.  With films like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Ring” dominating the box office between 1999 and 2003, and TV shows like “Medium” and “The Ghost Whisperer” taking off in the middle of the last decade, plus the recurrence of cult films about haunted houses and public interest in documentary-style TV shows on the investigation of so-called paranormal activity, we can say that the zombie’s fraternal twin has enjoyed its place at the table.

haunting

The Haunting (1999)

But if the zombie fad suggests dissatisfaction with society and how it affects the average person, what — if anything — might be suggested by a ghost fad?

It’s hard to say, but my guess would be that if the zombie craze pertains to a crisis of externals (the floundering economy, high unemployment, etc.), then any mass fascination with ghosts must pertain to crises of a more internal character.

the-sixth-sense

“The Sixth Sense” is most probably the most famous ghost movie of the last 15 years.  This movie came at the end of the 1990s, a decade that I like to call the heyday of postmodernism in popular culture.  And with postmodernism comes a crisis in cultural identity.  Why?  Because postmodernism is a philosophy in which the only certainty is that there are no certainties, and in which the only direction is progress in the knowledge that there is no direction.  I might be painting in broad strokes a little bit, but this is the gist of postmodernism’s implications.

Even though the post-9/11 years have been marked by what many would prefer to call post-postmodernism, many of the societal ills that accompanied postmodernism persist.  Examples include eating disorders, high rates of depression, sexual promiscuity, drug addictions, teen suicides, and other such earmarks of a society that is, so to speak, not comfortable in its own skin.

Ghost movies may not be as popular right now, but I believe that they are part of a larger trend that yet endures.  In my opinion, the search for meaning in the midst of a seemingly meaningless (a.k.a. postmodern) world has married postmodernist angst to produce a general fascination with the supernatural in our culture.

Ghosts are part of that — but ultimately, since human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures, I think the people who are into the supernatural want to satisfy their fascination with something more “fleshy.”  Perhaps this explains the more recent vampire craze…but more on that later.

All images obtained through a Google image search

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Jack_the_Giant_Slayer_posterYou would almost have to have been living under a rock — or at least a ficus bush — the past couple years not to notice that fairy tales are making a comeback.  I suppose they never really went anywhere, but they have experienced a sure resurgence in popularity in the last decade, give-or-take…particularly in popular media.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThe recent releases of “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful” follow two “Snow White” remakes in 2012 and the TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm,” both of which bring the world of fairy tales into direct contact with contemporary American life.

We can tie all of this to a general fantasy trend in popular media in the last 10-15 years — from “The Lord of the Rings” to Narnia, from Harry Potter to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other tales of long ago and faraway places, replete with great adventures, battles, heroes and heroines, and magical creatures of all kinds.

As with any trend at any point in history, we can ask: “Why?”

First of all, fairy tales are perennial.  They speak to timeless and universal truths, principles, and themes that embrace the fabric of every time and place.  As great nineteenth-century writers like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien would remind us, fairy tales reassure us of a moral universe in which goodness and virtue win and evil and hatred lose.

But as concerns the genre’s current popularity, we can ask what particular “niche” the times provide that it has come to fill.  Setting aside all mundane givens about ticket sales, thrills, etc., let’s explore this question a bit.

Somewhere in our souls, for all our society seems to be moving towards secularism, we continue to yearn for a re-enchantment of the world and of human life.  This is something I’m convinced of, based on what I know and have observed about contemporary life in Western society.

9-11

I think there is evidence for the aforementioned yearning in the fact that the fantasy/fairy tale trend in media goes back to around the time of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  This was deeply significant, because most of us in the U.S. had never before witnessed such an attack on the sacredness of life.

A-Bomb

Granted, Western society has harbored a moderate — if suppressed — sense of vulnerability since at least the 1940s, which gave us such phenomena as the Holocaust, World War II, and the atomic bomb.

The September 11th attacks may not have been as catastrophic or destructive to life and to the world as these, but they certainly hit home for us, and perhaps for that reason struck an already troubled nerve.

Our steady diet of fantasy/fairy tale media over the past decade may be an appeal to hope.  Fairy tales themselves are an appeal to meaning, to the belief in a purposeful world in which everything has its place, and everything somehow matters — an outlook that the destructive violence of a 9/11 or an atomic bomb causes us to question.

zombies

Of course, the fairy tale genre is not the only thing trending right now.  A couple weeks ago, a fascinating article appeared on Yahoo! News.  It’s called “Researcher: Zombie fads peak when society unhappy,” by Meg Kinnard, and can be found here:

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-society-unhappy-092912860.html

While we haven’t had any 9/11’s of late, lesser evils such as the economic meltdown and mass unemployment have similarly crippled hope, meaning, and a sense of the goodness of the world and of life in human hearts.  In many ways, we are facing the consequences of living in a world bereft of the transcendent values we once held dear.

But I think the fairy tale trend is the flipside of the zombie trend.  Based on this, we can have great hope that all is not doom-and-gloom after all.

Still from “The Walking Dead” obtained through a Google image search.  All other photos from Wikipedia.

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