Tuesday, October 20, 2009

America as metaphor for "Zombieland"? Or do I have that backwards? Or does it even matter?

Scene from the movie Zombieland

Last Friday I got brave. That's because I went to see Zombieland. Alone. Mrs. Dada had other places to be. Even if she hadn't, she wouldn't have accompanied me. She's more into British 1800s films or Sci-Fi flicks genres. So I was on my own.

I'm not keen on horror flicks either, but Zombieland stars Woody Harrelson and, being a quasi-fan, I usually enjoy his stuff. At least for this one, I was curious. That, plus, critics gave the movie 3 stars. I assumed that was out of a possible 5 (not 10). They also praised it for the humor so successfully infused therein.

So off I went for the 11:00 a.m. showing at the neighborhood mega-screen theater. One of things I really enjoy about going to an early matinee is the crowd, i.e., there is none! I eschew crowds in movie theaters at night and weekends. That's because it's kinda like being in a mob of zombies and with a new virulent strain of flu this season, I confess, I have this fear my convictions may be reinforced, engulfing me in a Howard Hughes irrationality before year’s end.

One can go to a brew pub knowing s/he will be among others who enjoy good ales and conversation. But going to a movie, particularly a zombie horror movie, one is exposing themselves to a far wider range of the public which can be at once interesting, strange, and sometimes scary -- especially being in the dark together! That point was especially driven home to me this past summer while attending local town hall meetings on health care reform with our congressman and local teabaggers. (Fortunately they left the lights on!)

But Friday it was just me and two other people. They arrived after me and I confess I was a bit disappointed, hoping for a few minutes I was in for my own private showing. But no problem, had this been an airplane, I could have rented a blanket and folded up the armrests. "Isn't there some way I could take up two, maybe three seats?" was my exact opposite reaction to attending a Saturday night movie in a crowd.


The humor the critics had enjoyed was absent. I surmised that was because the crowd was too. Some things are just funnier with more people. When there's a crowd, the one with the lowest threshold for humor can jump start an otherwise deadpan audience by laughing. Laughter then spreads throughout much of the audience like a virulent swine flu. (Sorry, bad analogy.)

I did enjoy Woody Harrelson. And I liked the effects which, however, grew more tedious over time. (How many different ways are there to kill a zombie, each gorier than the last?) When I arrived home, Mrs. Dada was anxiously awaiting my "review." I gave her a brief report on what I had seen, told her I was glad she saved her money and a couple hours of her remaining life for something better to do. And then in my summation I said a curious thing: "But I think Zombieland was a metaphor for something else." That being the part I probably enjoyed most about the dismal movie. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, being very bad at metaphors as I am. I left it at that.


Then today, two curious things happened. I was reading James Howard Kunstler's weekly rant over on Clusterfuck Nation. He entitled it Marching Toward Zombieland. Fresh from the movie, I read it with particular interest. I was hoping to find the metaphor buried 'neath the movie.

I enjoyed Kunstler's article, with particular trepidation for the audacious bankers and Wall Streeters who he says will be pressing their luck with their next round of blatant blood sucking billions of dollars in bonuses come Christmastime in the face of a well armed America. He concluded with the warning,”Watch out, Lloyd Blankfein! Woody is on his way....” (Lloyd Blankfein being CEO and Chairman of Goldman Sachs and “Woody” being the movie’s zombie slayer par excellence).

Kunstler’s zombie analogy was intriguing. But when I read Cindy Sheehan's post on my Facebook page entitled "He was the 'perfect infantryman'" (a link to the article she highlighted, not her Facebook page), things began to get a little strange. Suddenly Zombieland as metaphor was beginning to crystalize and horror movies as manifestations of a society’s attempt to cope validated. It was about a veteran soldier, Jacob W. Sexton, who had served in Iraq and was home on leave from his current Afghanistan tour with his family in Muncie, Indiana.

Monday, Jacob went to a local theater with two of his brothers. Tragically, in the middle of the movie they were viewing, Jacob used a gun and killed himself. The movie he and his brothers were watching? Zombieland!

Hopefully I’ll have more to say about Zombieland as a metaphor next time, after the idea has had a little time to set up (ala plaster drying).


(Dada note: Rather than a separate follow-up on this blog, I have posted my final thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.)


D.K. Raed said...

Dada the last zombie movie I ever saw was "Night of the Living Dead" (seen many many decades ago, while babysitting an epileptic child who I had fortunately already put to bed before turning on the TV, thus hopefully saving this very bright child from permanent brain damage).

I never intend to see another, even if gets 5 stars and features one of my favorite actors like Harrelson.

But I can appreciate Kunstler's metaphor even if I tend to think the zombies are more likely those beckhead herdbeests I see around me every day rather than the all-too-human greedy banksters and other clusterfuckers of our nation.

Dada said...

Raed: (BTW, will be glad when you get back to blogging after your relo, but I hadn't been over to RHW in awhile and was pleased to read your "Sunny D" as was Mrs. Dada too!).

OK, I was going to do a follow-up on this blog, but think I'll just confine such effort to here in the comments section.

Interestingly, I thought the reason I got the greatest number of blog hits since being posted over on (oh hell, I don't even remember his blog's name several years ago)...that it was because of this with Zombie in its title. But, alas, that was NOT the reason...it's the "incredible shrinking world of George Bush" -- a blog from some months ago -- that seems to deserve the credit. I've digressed, sorry.

Anyway, a day after posting this I did a Google of "Zombieland as metaphor" which returned this nice, brief, take on it here.

Sample: "zombie movies have further defined themselves by reflecting the fears of the modern world, especially since 9/11. ZOMBIELAND takes those fears, amplifies them and twists them for amusement.

"The millennial world has food chain corrupted with mad cows & deadly e.coli outbreaks. AIDs, MSRA infections and super TB viruses attack indiscriminately and unchecked. Religious fanatics of all stripes are killing innocents. The environment is on the run from decades of abuse and the future of the Earth is uncertain. On personal a level, there is no job security. Many jobs are in maze like warrens of cubicles and anonymity. Families are no longer the traditional, and if the exist at all, they are "blended". Strangers come to live with one another and call themselves a family.

Cont'd in next comment...

Dada said...

Comment cont'd:

"It is in this world where zombies and now, ZOMBIELAND, have come to represent our fears. Unseen, microscopic diseases can change you. Eating food at a restaurant or from a supermarket can kill you. A bomb could blow up any time, anywhere, for reasons obscured by ignorance and hate. The water we drink, or the air we breath could contain deadly chemicals which will alter us. And anyone working in the next cubicle or sleeping in the room down the hall could suddenly 'go postal'.

"In the world of zombies, they could be anyone. Zombies are the ultimate terrorists..."

Wow, I thought that some great sh*t, helping to explain my comment to Mrs. Dada after seeing the movie.

But as I dug deeper into the story about Jacob Sexton shooting himself here, aside from the link in the blog where Jacob's dad says ""I always enjoyed the service and wished the boys followed in my footsteps," , I found the details of his suicide interesting.

Apparently, Dad's wishes for his son's enjoyment of a military stint exceeded all expectations in Jacob. For example, Jacob didn't carry a gun into the theater according to the story. He asked to borrow his brother's during the movie! (WTF?!) And before entering the theater, was asked for an ID for his (military) discount, I presume, Jacob says something like, "I've shot 18 people and need to show an ID?" which hints at some underlying incongruities in his supposedly calm outward demeanor.

And so, as the Zombieland as metaphor article indicates, horror flicks serve as "a coping mechanism to process the stresses of civilization...to give reality to a culture's unspoken fears. Psychologists assert this process will, hopefully, allay those fears." Obviously it failed in the Sexton case. And while, albeit, there may be hints that the sons raised in this family may have been misled to believe the military is "enjoyable", the sad truth is this is but one of thousands upon thousands of cases that shall unfold for years to come, hopefully, not as tragically as Jacob's, but tragic just the same.

In a rare exception, it seems that the movie "Zombieland" may have had exactly the opposite effect of its intended catharsis for Jacob and the uneasiness of the general public. It his case, it may have triggered an identity crisis for Jacob as to which he really was: "Us or them."

D.K. Raed said...

I linked to this post ... hope you don't mind?

Dada said...

Deke: Mind? Not at all, even if you "missed the point of it" ~ J/K -- I know you don't miss the points!

Thanks for mentioning it on RHW (or did I miss the point? haha).

BTW, you know, I've been screwed up all week thinking this was Halloween weekend! Dah! What's the big rush toward the future??!!!