I don’t go to the movies that often, and when I do, I don’t normally make it a zombie movie. But when I saw the trailer for “Warm Bodies,” something told me I’ve got to see this one.
Before I get started, the only disclaimer I’d like to make is that I’m not recommending “Warm Bodies” as a “film for the whole family to enjoy.” I’m not even suggesting that you should see it, but if you were intrigued by the trailer, as I was, and thought that maybe this might be a good movie to see, then I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you see it. It’s a movie that delivers exactly what it promises: good, clean (well… I mean it is a zombie movie), funny, auto-critical, romantic fun with a little action, a little suspense, and it leaves you with a lot to think about.
So, why did I watch it and why am I writing this review?
The first thing that caught my attention about this movie was that it was obviously meant as a critique on 21st century society that’s still trying to find itself.
I immediately thought of two things when I first saw the trailer: teen culture’s gross fascination with romanticized vampire movies, popularized by the “Twilight” Saga, and the gross amount of zombie films over the past decade that seem to just keep coming, and coming, and coming… like zombies. They just won’t go away. You almost want to say, “What? Another zombie movie!” “Another romantic girl meets undead-boy flick!” This movie subtly demystifies both and could put an end to these morbid obsessions.
Second, it’s not another girl meets boy movie. It’s the classic girl meets boy movie (literally classic, meaning Shakespeare). You don’t realize until near the very end that you’ve been duped. During “the balcony scene,” the male zombie protagonist, whose name is “R” risks his life by showing his face at the home of “Julie”(-t), whose father would instantly kill the unlikely suitor on first sight. In contrast to Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, this tale has a happy ending (because it’s a comedy). In this story, love saves the world and does not end in suicide — nor does the girl have to become a zombie, or a vampire, or some other dead thing in order to find her fulfillment. Another breath of fresh air.
Finally, the love theme in “Warm Bodies” is not simple puppy love. R’s maturing love for Julie and vice-versa is contagious and turns out to be the cure for zombie-death. The other zombies in the film would like to eat Julie’s brain (because that’s what zombies have to do, remember), but they can’t. They cannot bring themselves to do it and they are not sure why at first. Slowly, they begin to realize that it is because R and Julie have the very thing that their painful, relationless, monotonously dead lives are missing, something they have all but given up in their own lives — the hope that true love could be real.
The ambiguous unambiguous message
Like any good post-modern social critique, “Warm Bodies” delivers a clear, yet not-so-clear message. Throughout the movie it is clear that zombies are trapped in their own inner-world, unable to relate to other beings, including zombies like themselves, let alone with the humans they must eat in order to survive. The scenes at the airport mimic the mall scene in “Dawn of the Dead” (okay, I saw it, but that was years ago, when I was a kid, okay). In the mall, zombies mindlessly window-shop, disconnected from the world — then again, that’s the only world there is, for them.
In the airport, zombies do what people do at the airport. They wait around, they sit at bars, try to strike meaningful conversations with other zombies but they can’t. They fiddle with gadgets, gaze into cellphone screens, walk around aimlessly listening to iPods. There’s no “human” interaction. Some of them even behave like they are working at the airport, sweeping the floors or scanning other zombies at the metal detector, but they don’t seem to know why, as if the tasks themselves were meaningless. And they are. There’s no life in their world.
The unambiguous message is that people need loving relationships with other people in order to live healthy, meaningful lives. Eventually, people can become hardened once they reject the possibility of love, and for some there is no turning back. In the film this is represented by “the bonies,” deader than dead walking skeletons. What’s odd is that zombies naturally try to resist decaying into bonies – but why?
This question brings us to the film’s ambiguous message. In the end, the humans and zombies discover that they can save each other from inevitable annihilation at the hands of the other, if the humans can reeducate the zombies about love.
The question is who in this world needs to be reeducated about love and by whom? The answer to that question is, of course, left to each viewer’s interpretation, which of course depends on their worldview. The movie presents love as innocent and noble and it rightly portrays it as something all people need and desire. But it also suggests that perhaps our views on love need to change, that that change is for the good, and that some people, namely, the humans, are enlightened about that change. There is hope for the zombies if they can be enlightened about love, that is, if they are open to what love really is and can accept it. And then there are the bonies who are too far gone and hardened to be reeducated. There is no hope for them. They are a threat to the survival of civilization so they must be killed off or isolated and contained until they eventually rot away and perish for good.
So, who is who in this scenario and who are you?
I think most people are human. So they leave this feel-good-about-yourself movie feeling good about themselves, feeling warm. For most people, it probably reinforces their views on love and for the most part that’s probably a good thing, assuming they have the right idea about what love is in the first place. Assuming that when they eventually find what they are looking for — what they call love — it really is the right thing.