Essay On Social Mores And Fears In The Movie “World War Z”
Marc Foster directed the movie World War Z, a horror film, in 2013 (Movies.com); it is an adaptation of Max Brook’s novel “World War Z: An oral history of the zombie war” (Brooks). The title is an allusion to two other 20th century global struggles, World War I and World War II. The name pulls the viewer into the mindset that the battle is being fought worldwide, but this time it is with, well, zombies. The idea of zombies is ages old and started with the concept of necromancy (Strohecker). Even the bible has references to cannibalism: "And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend.” Jeremiah 19:9 (Gaine). As literature progressed, mysticism became closer to science, as seen in Frankenstein and the similarity to the use of a defibrillator for reviving heart attack victims. In World War Z, it is never quite discovered what started the plague, but the laboratories of the world save the citizens of it.
What makes zombies different from other movie monsters is the point of origin (Strohecker). The literature of the Gothic period gave rise to the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula, but zombies are a fairly recent concept. The voodoo religion and folklore of Haiti were the origins of the living dead (Moreman and Rushton), but the use of the zombie as a fictional monster didn’t come to America until the 1920’s when W.B. Seabrook’s book “The Magic Island” was published in 1929 (Seabrook). An account of the author’s travels in Haiti, it defined the meaning of “zombie” for the American public.
Any good monster movie, as with any good zombie movie, has a connection to important topics though symbolism. Zombies are more than flesh-eating ex-humans who return from the grave to punish humankind. World War Z uses them to make a social commentary, bring attention to the recent popularity of survivalism, and associate the horror of the mobile undead with general fears and uncertainty.As a group, zombies are referred to as a “swarm”, similar to bees. When bees swarm, they are moving to a new colony en masse, but any life form that moves in this manner completely overruns and dominates the area. The connotation is animalistic and dangerous. Therefore, a bunch of zombies on the move are a “swarm”.
The virus in “World War Z” was at first thought to be a form of Asian rabies. Other plagues in history have been associated with viruses, such as yellow fever, smallpox, and measles (Oldstone). The bubonic plague killed hundreds of thousands of people in medieval times, and the virus that caused zombification resulted in a plague that, in the movie, killed even more. When the soldiers spoke of the waves of flesh-eaters, they referred to them as “the enemy”, also associating them with opponents in a war. In addition, the consequences of the zombie plague included disease, homelessness, and starvation and transportation, industry, and trade were destroyed. These are the aftermaths of war and also any natural disaster such as hurricanes or earthquakes. Therefore, the zombie apocalypse is associated with war and natural disasters conceptually. A zombie as a monster is a film concept, but zombies also represent war, destruction, natural disasters, and the plague. It may not be inappropriate to include the embodiment of human evil in the list. It has also been said that the zombie represents mindless consumerism (Moreman and Rushton).
World War Z uses several ways to comment on the incompetence of the government and the inability of nations to work together. When the main character travels to an army base in an attempt to track down the source of the infection, he is told there was “Not a memo, an email” sent to the United States concerning the outbreak. However, it was mostly ignored at the expense of a war that cost millions of lives, uncounted billions of dollars in damage, and that resulted in a setback to civilization. It does not take much imagination to realize why the government didn’t immediately address the issue. How many times is the White House informed of alien invasions, zombie attacks, or other outrageous threats? It was taken seriously by Israel only because of other realities to that country that materialized from outlandish ideas. It is revealed in the film that the government has taken inefficient steps toward investigating the possibility of a zombie plague, but didn’t pursue the leads to an end. The metaphor is that this attitude turns everyone into “zombies” on a daily basis, ignoring global problems that are active around us. Like the zombie plague, threats such as global warming, pollution, disease, and other issues affect every person in every country but are generally ignored by individuals.
Survivalists have developed a reputation for over-reacting to situations by taking steps to protect themselves from emergencies ranging from natural disasters to global political upheaval. However, they seem less reactionary when the possibility of a zombie apocalypse looms on the horizon. World War Z makes the viewer wonder if he or she has what it takes to survive such a situation. Americans in particular believe they can outlast any peril if given the proper tools and skills.
The weapons used to fight the zombies are interesting in that they focus on specific types of guns. Keeping in mind that guns do not kill zombies/people kill zombies, the most efficient way to eliminate the problem of your undead neighbor is to shoot him in the head with a handgun or a rifle. These simple, individual firearms are simple to use. Symbolically, they demonstrate that a person has to count on himself to stay alive. Organized warfare fails the population in the movie because mass destruction doesn’t work; a zombie can still spread the disease as long as the head remains intact. If more technologically advanced weapons such as sniper rifles or grenade launchers were available, your average homemaker would be at a loss on how to operate one. With handheld weapons such as guns, knives, or a hammer, a person can work alone or with others to meet an onslaught.
According to Moreman and Rushton (2011), part of the horror of the zombie is that the creature has lost its sense of self, of its individual identity. Like the Mummy and vampires, other film monsters, the only strength of the zombie is being part of a group driven to increase their numbers. On the part of the zombies, this is an unconscious drive. Given the opportunity, a zombie will slaughter its victim and consume it. However, some victims need to survive to spread the virus. In World War Z, the initial attacks on the cities were merely to infect humans as quickly as possible to gain strength through numbers. However, there is a scene in the movie when the main character realizes the virus seeks only healthy hosts in an almost driven activity to perpetuate the virus. This would suggest the zombie hoards being managed by a virus “Other” who seeks to maintain survival.
There is a general uncertainty to a zombie movie. A zombie allows the viewer to confront anxiety about the end of the world; most members of the audience will ask themselves, “What would I do in this situation?”. It brings to mind that people are living in a society that is irrational with daily human suffering and illogical destruction. Entire populations turn their minds to more personal matters while the “zombie apocalypse” happens around them. Individuals feel they have no impact on such huge threats to civilization, but by working together, a cure can be found.
Original zombie movies depicted the living dead as stumbling, moaning, unfocused corpses that only became animated at the prospect of snaring a living victim. However, in 2001, zombies changed into fast, enraged creatures; Moreman and Rushton (2011) speculate this was a reaction to the general feelings, American citizens were experiencing toward foreign enemies. There is a parallel to be drawn between this time and the perception of zombies in films. The initial horror of a zombie is that they are familiar people who become monsters. The threat is not realized until too late. Zombies reveal that humans can’t depend on the government or the standards of society to protect them. Zombies cannot make themselves understood and do not listen to reason. Humans realize that all zombies must be destroyed without mercy. If they do not persevere, the remaining humans will become zombified. An analogy that can be used is the white Californian man who was captured by the Taliban while serving overseas and became a militant Muslim “infected” with hatred of America. It was possible for anyone in the United States to have defected the terrorist organizations and remain hidden in plain sight. Like the zombie swarm, Muslim hoards stand poised to overwhelm an American culture. Simply put, you cannot trust a zombie. The new; fast zombies are the representations in World War Z. No longer imbecilic, shuffling, and easy to avoid, the “new” zombies are filled with rage, striking at any healthy person they see, screaming with wide eyes and frantic chase in a fevered need to infect and increase their numbers. The heroes of the movies are not elitist government specialists; they are the everyday man and woman who have been failed by those who were supposed to protect them.
Shortly after the commercial success of World War Z, it was announced a sequel was planned. Steps are still being taken in that direction. It is understandable that a movie with a star like Brad Pitt and superior computer generated effects, much of the audience does not contemplate the meaning of their lives and the coordination of governments in the face of global threat. However, after the initial enjoyment (and the “yuck” effect) has subsided, the deeper meaning of the movie will surface. The world has many different wars currently in progress and many more looming on the horizon. World War Z is similar to other war movies as it focuses on one person or group of people as they struggle against the enemy. However, there is one major difference between the themes of war and their relationships with society in World War Z and movies like Saving Private Ryan, and Fury.
Brooks, Max. World War Z. New York: Crown, 2006. Print.
Gaine, Hugh. The Holy Bible, Containing The Old And New Testaments. New-York: Printed and sold by Hugh Gaine, at his Book-store and printing-office, at the Bible, in Hanover-Square, 1792. Print.
Moreman, Christopher M, and Cory Rushton. Race, Oppression And The Zombie. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011. Print.
Movies.com. “World War Z”. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
Oldstone, Michael B. A. Viruses, Plagues, And History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
Seabrook, William. The Magic Island. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1929. Print.
Strohecker, David Paul. “On The Origin Of Zombies » Sociological Images”. Thesocietypages.org. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.