June 24, 2005

The politics of the zombie.

Manohla Dargis writes about "Land of the Dead":
With each of Mr. Romero's zombie movies, the walking dead have grown progressively more human while the living have slowly lost touch with their humanity....

[T]he greatest shock here may be the transformation of a black zombie into a righteous revolutionary leader (I guess Che really does live, after all).

With "Revenge of the Sith" and "Batman Begins," "Land of the Dead" makes the third studio release of the summer season to present an allegory, either naked or not, of our contemporary political landscape. Whatever else you think about these films, whether you believe them to be sincere or cynical, authentic expressions of defiance or just empty posturing, it is rather remarkable that these so-called popcorn movies have gone where few American films outside the realm of documentary, including most so-called independents, dare to go. One of the enormous pleasures of genre filmmaking is watching great directors push against form and predictability, as Mr. Romero does brilliantly in "Land of the Dead." One thing is for sure: You won't go home hungry.

Hmmm.... should I bite? I'm interested in politics. And I like a brainy film.

UPDATE: I saw it! Very good! High quality photography. Exciting narrative. Great villain (a Donald Trump-ish Dennis Hopper). Nice band of good guys (always in danger of getting bitten and going over to the other side). Some sympathy for the zombies, who, despite their impairments, are trying to figure things out and act in their own interest.

I must say, though, that I was surprised they gave the Dennis Hopper character a distinctly Jewish name (Kaufman). At one point, someone declares "jihad" on him too. Kaufman was a very greedy rich man, very attached to his bags of money. It isn't hard to put together the case that there was some serious anti-Semitism here. I'm surprised the commercial backers of the film didn't nix the Jewish name. Wonder what was going on there.

(A little spoiler follows.)

The zombies in the beginning are controlled by fireworks, which dazzle them into a staring daze. When they get a little smarter, they overcome this tendency and become much more effective. So a political interpretation would be: staring at the fireworks equates to being blinded by appeals to patriotism. When the zombies/workers stop being dazzled by the show, they can overthrow the rich and powerful.


Allah said...

I'm going in two hours!

lindsey said...

Judging from this interview with Romero, he seems to have a severe case of political idiocy. Now the zombies are the oppressed masses as well as more human than the humans! There’s something really grotesque in the implications of this. Zombies are flesh-eating monsters. Is this his opinion of the “oppressed masses"? There’s something possibly racist and classist about this. It's sad too because his earlier work really is wonderful. I hope the movie is better than his description.

Q:"Michael Moore notwithstanding, it still seems risky to make a movie this political in what is effectively a risk-averse Hollywood climate. I’m thinking particularly of those scenes where we see captive zombies turned by their human captors into Abu Ghraib–style sideshow freaks.

A:I’m not sure if you showed this movie at the White House that anybody would get it, except when the money burns at the end — then they might feel a little pang of sadness.”

Kathleen B. said...

"A:I’m not sure if you showed this movie at the White House that anybody would get it, except when the money burns at the end — then they might feel a little pang of sadness."

I love it! I may have to see the movie just for that comment, and I don't even really like zombie movies (Shawn of the Dead notwithstanding).

Pastor_Jeff said...


Yes, that came across in the LAT review as well:
Knight of the Living Dead

With "Land," Romero tackles issues of safety and boundaries, showing a community fortifying itself against a murderous horde while its wealthiest keep alive class divisions separating them from the powerless ... When told that it's hard not to think of Iraq watching an armored car of trigger-happy humans roll through a zombiefied suburb shooting anything they see, Romero smiles. "That's one of the things I put in there afterward."

Well, yes. I'd prefer to keep alive distinctions which separate me from murderous hordes of flesh-eating zombies. But then I'm funny that way. And of course American soldiers in Iraq ride around shooting anything that moves because they're the unwitting tools of our paranoid class warfare. Sigh.

Ann, it sounds like the only "brainy" part of the movie will be the zombie attacks.

Dirty Harry said...

"Land of the Dead" and "Deuce Bigalow 2" -- the only sequels in years worth seeing.

Both are destined to be classics.

Ann Althouse said...

The safe zone is called "Fiddler's Green," suggesting both the "Green Zone" in Baghdad and fiddling while Rome burns.

Allah said...

I try not to politics get in the way of enjoying a movie (especially a horror flick), but the allegory in this one offended me quite a bit.

I won't piece it out since it would give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say, the zombies were the least cartoonish thing about this flick.

lindsey said...

Allah, could you please make a post on your site detailing your opinion? Or is it possible to put it in spoiler tags? Is there even such a thing as spoiler tags in blog message sections?

brady said...

A few things:

Fiddler's Green is a mythical sailor's paradise that's been around for a good long while (and was in the script pre 9/11). I think it's like the Elysian Fields, but with lots of rum. And maybe some tavern wenches.

As for the whole zombies = us thing. That's been a part of his films since day...er...night one. The most interesting thing (to me, anyways) about zombie fiction - when it's good - is seeing the 'new society' arise as the world goes bonkers. If the writer's an optimist, people tend to cooperate and band together against the hordes of shuffling undead. If the writer is less of an optimist, it usually tends to devolve into a scramble for survival where the milk of human kindness get spilled in favor of "I need that gun more than you do, so give it here or I will throw you to the zombies."

It doesn't seem that shocking to me that someone, in making a film that is about how people respond to major trauma, could float the idea that maybe it wouldn't go so well, and old social divisions might crop back up.

Lindsey's suggestion of racism or classism frankly baffles me, because zombie bites are pretty indiscriminate.

(MILD SPOILER: It seems to me that race and class mainly come in to the picture insofar as the poor and non-white are for the most part denied admission to Fiddler's Green by whatsisface.)

As for the distasteful suggestion that there's not much that separates us from the zombies and the 'grotesque implications' mentioned by others:

It is a horror movie. It's job is, among other things, to make distasteful, uncomfortable, horrible suggestions that skeeve one out, big time. I think that's what separates the truly creepy from the merely gross or startling.

Yes, zombies are undead cannibals with bad teeth, but the real horror of the zombie is that it's not their fault. They were brought back from the dead by who-knows-what, and now they wander around eating people.

Zombies are scary, sure, but they're kind of pitiable. And if you are one of the last survivors of the zombie apocalypse, they include your parents, your spouse, your siblings, all of your friends, your first grade teacher, your grandparents, your students, etc., and they are hungry, and if they find you they will try and eat you unless you shoot them in the head.

The zombies aren't more or less human than us, they're just as human as us, because they *are* us.

Just, you know, kind of dead and very hungry.

F15C said...

I haven't seen the movie and have seen Romero's others. I can enjoy a movie with 'political overtones' (tm), in spite of, not because of, said 'tones. But come on, Lucas's attempt at politicizing Sith was so stilted and juvenile I'd have to call it 'political overtone-deaf'.

Film makers simply love to think they are educating us poor schmucks by virtue of their ability to create 'cinema', and because obviously, they are just plain smarter than all of us ticket buyers.

The whole thing is humorous.