Welcome to Romero week, a week full like the stomach of a zombie after a particularly fresh (flesh?) meal. This week, I watched Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. My all three movies were amazing, archetypal of what would be the original and most influential zombie films. People got bit, zombies frenzied, the survivors fought, the virus spread, and it was all formatted to fit my screen. I was so captivated by the tales of these people and the dangers that they faced.
Still, I find it so interesting that we become captivated by a story that is essentially the same story over and over again with the same characters. A story of survivors coping with an onset of zombie attacks. Night, Dawn, Day, The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, Shawn of the Dead etc. The same story. Yet zombies are one of the most substantial and persistent creatures in pop culture. How can we feel so connected and terrified with this story, when we can’t relate to it directly. Maybe we can.
Can’t We All Just Work Together?
Upon first analysis, Night, Dawn and especially Day do not seem to be very well-connected. They connect outwardly under the one guise of involving zombies in a form of cannibalistic monster. However, I believe there is something else to be said about how they intersect.
Stage one: Survival. In Night, we see our characters emerge in a state of panic over the new, foreign outbreak. People are dying at a rapid pace. The homes of people are completely overrun. At the beginning of the attack the characters are unsure what to do and what is the best decisions for their family. They are in shock, hysterical. There is a classic panic that resonates completely on how we can see the world reacting to this sort of problem. The news reports are unbelievable. There isn’t much security, and protection is scant. The group starts to form of people who agree and disagree, strong leaders and weak leaders, and women and men at odds. Night is the beginning of the attack.
Stage two: Thriving. In Dawn, a mall can be the perfect form for protection. Shelter, food, warmth, people, protection. This is not the perfect world, but they are doing with the world what they can. In the beginning, you see a news station in the throes of chaos. The outbreak has already happened, and now it is about getting somewhere safe, building a new life. The mall is classically a place of prosperity and growth. As Night acts as the beginning of the attacks, Dawn seems to be a bit later. The virus seems to have consumed everyone, and those who have not succumbed are against each other. This is where the people learn to live around the zombies. What we do know is that even the mall is not a safe place.
Stage three: Survival of the Fittest. The Walking Dead’s tagline, ‘Fight the dead, fear the living’, is for Stage three. The zombies are not the most important aspect. They are haunting in the back of the minds of the people, but it is now the people to be afraid of. Group mentality takes over. Stealing, killing, violence and dislike for one another prevail. This stage is the constant battle for what they feel is theirs. There are echoes of this in Dawn when the Bikers come in to loot the mall. However, this mentality of person against person shows its true colours in Day. While Night is the beginning and Dawn is the middle, Day is the ending. An underground bunker of five military and three scientists are in the throes of the zombie takeover, where it is implied that they have been the only ones left for a long time. The two groups are at each others throats, one more violent than the other. The common theme is ‘Why can’t we just work together’. People continue to die for this reason. In the end, they are overrun again, and three people escape to an island paradise as the only ones willing to work together.
Each film is a story in a greater tale of zombie takeover that plays with our inner survivor and our inner psyche. Night begins the outbreak and no one survives. Then, Dawn happens, and the people try to find a way to live. Almost all of them die except for two. Finally, Day occurs and the apocalypse is in full-scale, and the military, once powerful falls, and the minorities escape the horrors.
Come One, Come All
If we look at this as one big story of the 20 year zombie take over, we can see some things occurring on who gets out alive.
Night – No one of the group in the farmhouse survives.
Dawn – Out of the four, the cool and collected Peter, who is African-American, and Francine, the pregnant, white girlfriend of one of the deceased, make it out alive.
Day – The military, who was once a saviour is now the most dangerous threat in the bunker, and it is their bad decisions that eventually lead to their demise. Of the people in the bunker, three survive. The African-American helicopter pilot John, the Irish tech-specialist McDermott, and the scientist, Sarah.
So who survives? The best part about the zombie apocalypse as portrayed by media is similar to that of who becomes a zombi in Vodou. In the culture, anyone can become a zombi slave. As a modern zombie film, anyone can survive. Anyone can die. It is no longer the strong who survive. It is not just the weak who die. The zombie attack is unpredictable; you could lose your brother and he could come back and eat you. Or you could escape with everyone you love.
The zombie story is not subjected to the rules that we are accustomed to following about movies. In Night, even the protagonist dies. The bad guy could win and the good guy can have his brains eaten. There is no real happy ending, just another day to live. It is not subject to societies rules of who prevails.
The zombie apocalypse changes the rules of society. For example, it changes gender roles. In Night women were bossed around, made to care for the child without question, or shown as hysterical In Dawn, even though Francine is the one nursing Roger, she is also the one carrying a child and learning how to fly the helicopter and holding the blow torch. She is the one that rescues Peter and herself by flying the helicopter. However, she isn’t involved in the hunt, she is still cooking and cleaning and putting on make-up in the mall. Finally, in Dawn, the protagonist is a woman. This woman seems to be one of the only characters thinking rationally. She is one of the smartest characters. Although she is sexually threatened and put down in a consistently male environment, but she very rarely shows weakness. It is she who ends up being able to survive.
In the end of it all, when the walls are being torn down by the horde of zombie, regular gender roles are shot out of the proverbial gun and in enters a whole new world of survival. There are other examples of roles thrown away. While running from the zombies, McDermott in Day runs out of his liquor, which he was attached to before. He throws it away without a thought. A quality that was an aspect to his character is literally thrown on the ground. There are more important things to worry about. When it comes to running from the faceless horde, there are no more roles to fit to.
Let’s Go Shopping
Consumerism has long been something talked about when it comes to Romero films, most specifically Dawn for its outward consumerism metaphor. The whole thing takes place in the mall where you see three transitions of consumerism.
1) The scene where all the characters have cleared the mall, and they are actually running gleefully through the mall, picking up whatever they want.
2) The looters come in and destroy the exact places they gleefully ran, stealing.
3) The zombies invade, walking their same steps as a faceless consuming horde.
So what does this say about us. Does this mean that we are the faceless horde that consume? the contrast between the faceless zombies walking through the mall and the loud-speaker telling them the sales they could get is very closely connected with the mall that we know and love, the impulse purchases, the smell, the displays and sales that make us want and buy and consume and consume! By the time you leave the mall, you are so drained you almost feel undead.
What do you think? Does consumerism make us part of the horde? How can we even avoid this, when our society seems to want us to be this way…unthinking, unknowing.
Please, Don’t let me become one of them!
Our society is an odd place. On one hand, we don’t want to be the same as everyone else. We are told not to follow the herd. Or horde. We want to be ‘individuals’. However, we also chastise, single out, and make fun of those who are different. What are we to believe? We are in a constant struggle for the fine line in between being ourselves and fitting in. We fear so much being different that we wear the mask to be included with everyone else, but we fear so much losing ourselves.
This can be seen in the Night series. The characters want so badly not to be like them. They want so badly not to be part of the horde that they are willing to be shot in the head. They are willing to kill others to save themselves. They want to keep their individuality and perhaps their identity. I suppose how you can look at it is that once we join the horde we lose the people we are. We loose our selves and our individuality. We become something we don’t recognize and don’t want to be.
This is mirrored in our own society and our innate fear of losing our identity. However, in our society its easier to cross over. There is less blood and gore and transformation to the movement to the majority. It’s as easy as going to the mall, where we can both consume and fit in to trends. It’s as easy as watching TV and being bombarded by ads that tell us to be different, then ask us to buy their product. It’s as easy as feeling like you’re different, but someone tells you that you are a faceless hipster as well.
We don’t want to be faceless. That is what the Dead Series is telling us. That is what the blank slate that the zombie is can show us. By being this faceless horde who consumes and is driven by a primal urge to ‘eat’ ‘shop’ ‘be the same’ scares us enough that even we continue to consume zombie media. The Dead series is about maintaining who you are, being a good person, staying logical and NOT GETTING CONSUMED.
If I could pick a character to root for forever, it would be Bub. Bub is the reason we can sympathize with the zombie. He is us. They are us. The zombie can be anyone – a clown, a ballerina, a Hari Krishna. A business man, a drag queen, a princess, a baseball player.
Bub shows us that he used to be a real person. We feel pity because of what they have become. A dead horde with one goal only, to kill us. And we feel pity for ourselves. Which side would we rather be on? The humans’ lives are on the line, but the zombies lives can be seen as free. If anything, the survivors are the slaves. Slaves to the escape, slaves how much food they have, slaves to the psychological issues that follow. The zombie has none of that.
In the end of Day, we see the characters on an island far away from civilization, or what is left of it. Maybe that is the answer. Live a life of slavery as a drone of civilization as a survivor or a zombie. or, live a life away from the troubles of society. Easier said than done.
Maybe Romero did not write any of this into the script. Maybe the idea of people with a disease crazy enough to make us eat each other sounded like a block buster idea. And it was. But the Dead series has a lot of paths to take. It’s about thinking critically, staying logical, and deciding that the world around us does not control us. We do not need to be controlled by the faceless horde. We do not need to fit in or live in fear that we will be seen as different and absorbed into the majority. We do not have to live with labels and roles. In this society, it isn’t the good that die young and the tough cutters that survive. Survival can be for anyone and we do not have to cross over to the dark side. Maybe all Romero is trying to tell us is to be good people, to maintain our identities, and to make sure that we don’t succumb to the herd. Or horde.
Maybe its time our society made a change to a zombie horde that celebrates individuality and free thought, not mindless consumption. Either that, or the ideas society continues to cram down our throats will make us eat each other.
Stay tuned for next week – The apocalypse (but not the real one, don’t get freaked out)