Saturday, 24 January 2015

mokie: Stonehenge with the sun shining through the stones (holiday hippie)
Happy Women's Healthy Weight Day! Also the anniversary of the patenting of the Eskimo Pie in 1922.

Tell me that's not cosmically significant.
mokie: They're coming to get you, Barbara! Zombie attacks a woman in a car (zombies)
World War Z is actually a pretty good movie.


I've probably talked about this before, but a big truth of horror movies in general and zombie movies in particular is that despite being dismissed by respectable folks as mindless entertainment, they serve up a generous dose of social commentary. Horror is about pushing the audience's buttons to get a reaction, and the buttons being pushed tell you things about the creator, the audience, and the society they both belong to.

This happens even if the creator didn't consciously intend to or realize that he hit a certain button, or notice that the button she hit was wired to several other buttons. A classic example: the lead in Night of the Living Dead was not hired because of his race, but his race rewired a load of buttons in the movie, effectively adding an element of commentary on race in America in 1968.

So, like most monsters, zombies symbolically stand for something. Prior to Night of the Living Dead, it was the threat of non-white people stealing a white person's soul and enslaving them. (Hoo, boy. BUTTONS.) In American zombie films that came after, it was consumerism, conformity, and the Man, man - very American buttons. (Yes, hardcore fans, I am intentionally sidestepping Italy's notoriously gory zombie movies. I don't know the culture of Italy in the '80s well enough to guess what buttons a zombie wrestling a shark was pushing.)

Remember the pop science study released a few years ago that pointed out we get more zombie movies under Republican presidents, and vampire movies under Democrat presidents? Cinematic class warfare, the theory goes, though the interpretations differ: did the Republican America fear a revolt of the dirty, hungry poor coming for their wealth, or did America under Republicans fear the imposition of conformity to the point that all individuality was consumed and lost? Did Democratic America fear powerful bloodsucking elites, or did America under Democrats fear foreign perverts coming in and overthrowing the moral order of the day?

Answer: YES. Because it's all about perspective! And then you take into account the romanticization of the vampire, and the popularization of the zombie, and it all gets really twisty!

So! Anyway! The thing with World War Z is that it's not quite a zombie movie: it's really a disaster movie.

Zombie films typically work on a small scale. There's an everyperson protagonist, a ragtag group just trying to survive, isolation from the outside world but a hope of salvation from it. Because of that isolation, there's also a loss of scale: not only can the group not tell how far this emergency extends due to the breakdown of local order, but the breakdown of local order leads to actions that make them lose sight of the scale of their actions - they may they go from killing zombies to survive to quietly locking out a member of the group who refuses to get in step and take orders. The films take a good hard poke at authority, as members of this microcosm try to impose their will on the group. It's Lord of the Flies with flesh-eating monsters.

Disaster films work on a large scale. The protagonist is an authority figure, an expert on whatever the impending threat is. He's always looking at the situation from the top-down, and always has a sense of the scale of it. He is the outside that help comes from, even if he's a member of the community being saved from the volcano/earthquake/etc. He finds and works with members of the local establishment, upholding the local order. Those people who lose sight of the scale of their actions, doing whatever they think they need to do to survive? If they're not the expert protagonist, we usually see them being shut down hard by the local establishment, as examples of mindless panic.

Where zombie movies question and condemn authority, disaster movies celebrate it. World War Z bridges the gap.

Authority is both celebrated and questioned. Our protagonist is the authority, and he's working with the authorities, but he's also under threat from the authorities, and we get a lot of "Who gets to decide who lives and who dies?" situations. We have a big picture view of authorities making decisions that are sometimes hard and sometimes callous, sometimes the 'right thing' and the cause of their downfall, but we also have the small-scale as our authority protagonist bounces through cut-off communities.

And it may be a little more realistic in those small-scale settings: rather than a society that has instantly gone to hell and nobody's in charge because it's every man for himself, we see pockets of community, where locals have hunkered down and held out by depending on one another, and where they try to help others because that's what people do, goddammit.

Making a natural disaster movie of it also flips the symbolism on zombies, approaching them from that top-down perspective rather than the everyman perspective. Do the film's zombies symbolize the next big pandemic, which will require us to put aside our isolationist tendencies and work with the rest of the world for an answer? Do they symbolize the threat of rampant immigration effectively ending societies as we know them? Again, yes, because perspective. I didn't say the movie wasn't problematic, y'all.

In any event, it's nice to see a film that up-ends the format, and now I'm ready to read the book and see how the movie fell short. Win-win!

About dream/reading tags

y-* tags categorize dreams.

For types: beyond the obvious, there are dreamlets (very short dreams), stubs (fragment/outline of a partially-lost dream), gnatter (residual impression of a lost dream).

For characters: there are roles (characters fitting an archetype), symbols (characters as symbols), and sigils (recurring figures with a significance bigger than a single dream's role/symbolism).

x-* tags categorize books.

Material is categorized primarily by structure, style and setting. If searching for a particular genre, look for the defining features of that genre, e.g. x-form:nonfic:bio, x-style:horror, x-setting:dystopian.