The first R-Rated movie I saw (or recall seeing) was the original Dawn of the Dead. I was 12 or so and I was definitely getting away with something by getting a friend’s older brother to rent it for us (on VHS tape) from the corner video store.
I think one’s first R- film makes an impact. What was yours? (add to comments!)
Anyway, Dawn of the Dead, was all about a group of survivors holed up in a shopping mall. Is it just horror-gore fun to watch heads explode? Or, is there a deeper echo of concerns and fears about society? I am sure others have noticed that zombies have changed over time from a figure of voo-doo magic, to creatures caused by nuclear accidents (as in Romero’s 1960 films) to the more recent 28 Days Later zombies that are fast and really not dead per se, just infected with a horrific disease. But there is more to the tropes of the zombie narrative than just shifting embodiments of our fears.
A friend recently wondered aloud why vampires and zombies are so popular and if it had something to do with new narratives about death and the afterlife. No, they don’t. At least zombies don’t.
Zombies are dead. They swarm. They have no agency. They will relentlessly attack you until you succumb. And then they eat your body/brain.
See, zombies are not dead symbolically. The beauty of Dawn of the Dead being set in a mall, to see the walkers wandering amongst the clothing stores and food courts, is to remind us that zombies are other people. I think zombies are not “dead.” They are the living hordes around us in mass society that want to destroy and consume us as individuals and in our small, serendipitous tribes. To really make it out there, as a survivor, you need friends you can trust, gumption, improvisation skills, immunity to PTSD, and a strong stomach helps.
My current obsession with zombie narratives is the AMC series, The Walking Dead (“The Best Thriller on TV” says Entertainment Weekly.) In the clip linked to here (I’m unable to embed… grrrrrrrrr….), the main protagonist, Rick Grimes, rides into Atlanta expecting to find safety and security. Well, let’s just say it is not what he hoped for. In his darkest moment, he is helped by a literal voice out of thin air. The end of the clip is on youtube…
What does this remind me of? Kant (you will read him later) talked about maximal duties. In this case, out of sheer humanity in a world where most people are out to get you, Glenn helps Rick. Glenn is going above his minimal duties. Why? Maybe because he acts as if his actions could be a universal action for anyone. At least, that is what Kant would say.