Honey on a lion’s tongue… Warm Bodies (or Why Women Find Socially Awkward Men Adorable)

It is quite the shame when you read a review much better than you could muster right before trying to write your own.  Once again, I point in the direction of BeaglePaws’ review which essentially covers more succinctly that which I would write.

The story of Warm Bodies is simple.  There’s been a zombie outbreak and now humans live a segregated existence: the infected live on the other side of a piece of brutalist architecture called ‘the Wall’, the humans live in a fascist military state with limited supplies.  Julie, the daughter of the junta’s leader leads a raid for supplies on the other side of the Wall, only to be attacked by zombies.  While eating Julie’s boyfriend, one of the zombies begins to develop affection for Julie.  He rescues her, hides her in his Jefferson Airplane of hipster shit, and the two begin to develop affection for each other.

Julie comes to know the zombie as ‘R’ (wink, wink), but knows that her father will disapprove of him (nudge, nudge).  R becomes increasingly sentient and travels with Juliet back towards the wall, but Juliet abandons Romeo for some reason, so Romeo must break into the fascist state and woo Juliet beneath her balcony (WINK, WINK, NUDGE, NUDGE).

Warm Bodies is stupid.  It’s a paint-by-numbers movie designed to make adolescents and undergraduates feel clever, in the same genre as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Although it has the stylings of a chick flick, the intended audience is undeniably male.  The film explains to guys that no matter how few social graces you possess, women should give you a chance if you’re adorably awkward.  If they don’t, they are — to quote the film — ‘bitches’.

The film doesn’t even pass the Bechdel Test.  Julie’s boyfriend was eaten by zombies.  She’s spent a few days stuck in a traumatising and vulnerable state.  She’s home.  They discuss R.  Right.

Although the obvious comparison is to Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet (there’s even a pool scene), perhaps a less obvious link is to Albert Camus’ The Outsider.  Warm Bodies is narrated by the protagonist, R, from the perspective of hindsight, with a humble braggy tone.  ‘Oh, look at what I was like back then,’ he says, ‘God, this is so embarrassing.  I don’t know why I’m showing you all of this.’  In many senses, this is not at all unlike narcissistic-shame, similar to what we see on RateMyPoo, where the person reveals to the world something humiliating for the enjoyment of the humiliation.  R, the narrator, knows what will happen to R, the character on the screen.  The two are clearly different characters: where R-qua-narrator is eloquent and self deprecating, R-qua-zombie is a grunting hulk.

The result is similar to that in The Outsider, we understand the world through the perspective of R.  Even scenes which do not involve R are still seen from his perspective.  Thus we get the conversation which fails the Bechdel Test (and similar to Herodas’ Mimes where female characters discuss only sex and men when men are not around) where the other characters only exist in relation to them talking about R.

In contrast to The Outsider, R is not going to suffer a death but is going to make the reverse transition (complete with symbolic baptism in the pool).  In many respects, this reversal reveals more about how the movie sees the modern human condition.  Where Camus and his friends were interested in understanding liberty and freedom (through understanding the Absurd), Warm Bodies is about a reaffirmation of the content and unexamined life (an ideological embrace of the Absurd).  On the plane surrounded by his hipster junk, R is uniquely individualistic despite being a near-mindless zombie.  He seeks isolation in order to indulge in arts and aesthetics.  But to become human again, he must reject that individuality and join society within the fascist state.  As more zombies begin to regain their humanity, they also seek the protection of the fascist state.  Meanwhile, the human society enclosed behind the wall will not accept the zombies until they demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the sake of that society.

And it’s not like that society is the least bit good.  Although Julie, as the daughter of the junta leader, lives in a comfortable, indulgent home, others in the human society are living on the streets or in ghettos.  But this is the utopia R seeks, the one that rejects him as he is found and expects him to commence an unexamined life.  R doesn’t seek meaning; he seeks indulgence.

The other strange aspect to the film was its medicalisation of the fantastic.  It’s not uncommon for films to recast fantasy elements into the boring, naturalistic world of our modern pop-positivists.  Ancient deities are actually aliens.  Vampires can be treated with injections of garlic.  The Force is microscopic organisms.  Zombies are caused by some sort of plague.  None of this is particularly new.  In Warm Bodies, the positivist view of ‘zombie-disease’ is both adopted and rejected.  The outbreak began due to monkeys or science or a bomb (referencing other movies), but the cure is tolerance, acceptance, and love.  If you have tapeworm, no amount of affection is going to rid you of those bad boys.  If you have cancer, no amount of being included in a game of catch is going to make you well.  But in Warm Bodies, diseases can be cured so long as you’ve got the right attitude.

It’s not even a fun film and, once again, we have the problem of casting B-grade actors alongside deities.  When John Malkovich starts treating everybody around him as a moron, you can’t help but wonder if he actually believed it.  He hits all the right notes and knocks everybody else out of the park.  Meanwhile, the guy playing R is mostly irritating and the girl playing Julie is instantly forgettable.  Both seemed worse in comparison to Malkovich.  Perhaps if they’d cast somebody like Chris O’Donnell as the dad it might all have seemed a bit more consistent.

In conclusion, don’t watch this film.

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