Warm Bodies: The Romantic Side of Zombies
A friend of mine recently introduced me to the Jonathan Levine film Warm Bodies, coming out on February 1st. When she first told me about the movie, I was skeptical. Based on the novel by Isaac Marion, the film follows one of the zombies that now populate the world as he struggles to connect with someone despite his living impairment.
Our undead hero (Nicholas Hoult), who can’t remember his name but it probably started with an R, finds his chance for happiness when he sees Julie (Teresa Palmer), a young woman fighting for survival in this post-apocalyptic universe. He instantly falls in love with her and designates himself her protector. Despite the objections of Julie’s father (John Malkovich), the two commence a romance that seems to have an effect on all of the zombies, as they begin to heal themselves and regain their humanity.
When I heard this description, I literally scoffed. Seriously? A zombie romance movie? Now that Summit has wrapped Twilight, they’ve moved on to the next popular monster to ruin. However, after seeing the trailer, I must admit that this movie has potential. It looks like a clever, unique adaptation to media’s monster du jour. It’s saving grace, if the trailer is any indication, is its tone: the film seems to play up a tongue-in-cheek humor that acknowledges the surreality of the situation and has fun with it. Our zombie male protagonist may stumble around and grunt and eat the flesh of the living, but his inner dialogue is brilliant. He even has a zombie friend that he almost has conversations with.
The movie looks hilarious, and I’ll be the first to say that I’m excited to see it, but I feel that my initial scoff was warranted with this plot. I’m vaguely disappointed with our culture. Can we not have one monster that is purely scary and not a love interest? What’s wrong with the savage monster that kills without prejudice? I understood when vampires became romantic interests. They are by nature sexually charged and alluring. Vampire literature has always had an undertone of dangerous romance, so really, it was just a baby step to give the vampire a conscience and then introduce the woman, who is instantly attracted to the tall, dark and handsome, not to mention mysterious, man who can offer her eternal youth. Show me a woman who wouldn’t want that. Ghosts also make sense. They’re just people who have crossed over and are missing a body. If they could love in life, they can love in the afterlife. Fine. And werewolves are people 90% of the time. Their monster is simply a problem one day (or three depending on which story you’re looking at) of the month. Women can relate to that.
But I thought I could count on the zombie to remain monstrous in the mainstream media. I thought the horror and brainless violence – pun intended – was enough for the zombie. They are decomposing corpses walking the earth with one primal desire: to eat the brains and/or flesh of the living. The only hearts that should be involved are the ones that are being ripped out and eaten. I’m not even going to mention the implied necrophilia. (Okay, I just did, but seriously, is that hot now?)
Sure, the zombies in Warm Bodies are relatively attractive, or as attractive as a zombie can be and still be a corpse. R is really just super pale and has weird eyes. He’s not visibly decomposing or anything. Plus, in this universe there are worse villains than zombies: Bonies! As their name implies, these guys are more or less skeletons that go around tormenting zombies and humans alike. As the trailer says, “they’ll eat anything with a heart.” Then again “[R] will too, but at least [he’s] conflicted about it.”
Therein lies the key to making these monster romances work: the monster has to keep all the traits inherent in their mythos, but they must be conflicted about it. These romantic leads are reluctant monsters. (It’s sort of the flip side of reluctant hero…kind of.) It’s just not right turning these awesome manifestations of human fears into fuzzy bunnies. I want to be able to watch The Walking Dead without worrying if Rick is shooting a potential love interest in the head or Carl is killing somebody’s girlfriend who was just out for a walk.
My biggest issue with this obsession with romanticizing monsters – and this may be me reading into this way too deeply – is the implication of the metaphor. All classic monsters emerged in literature as manifestations of different fears in our culture: when Dracula was published, vampires represented immorality and the dangers of sex in the Victorian age; Frankenstein’s monster exemplified the horrors of excessive science; werewolves amplified the dangers of the monster within; and zombies presented our terror of mindless masses. There are other readings to take from each classic monster, but these are the ones I’ve heard the most. Now all of our deepest fears are the ultimate date? We’re willingly embracing these dangers? Talk about abusive relationships!
But I suppose I should just sit back and watch the movie without reading too much into it. As with most things, it’s all about how the story is handled. Warm Bodies appears to have adopted an amusing tone that should play well with the story. I’m excited to see it, just to get inside the zombie’s head and hear what it’s like to be trapped in your own mind and not even realize it. If the rest of the movie carries the same wit and brilliance as the trailer, I know I’ll leave the theater happy and not overly concerned about the underlying implications and the downfalls of society. I’ve heard that the book is fantastic, so hopefully the movie will live up to its promise and won’t shoot itself in the head.
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