Warm Bodies: Romance Is So Dead

8326325527_c9452a86d1So, zombies are the new vampire. Now they, too, are sympathetic, romantic and stilted in their speech. They, too, have glowing eyes and lips of an unnatural hue. At least they don’t sparkle. Not yet.

Alas, the male zombie heartthrob/lead from WarmBodies, named simply “R” in the novel by Isaac Marion and played by Nicholas Hoult in the film, would fit right in at the cafeteria table with Edward Cullen–he is whiter than white and also appears to be made of stone. He could just as easily hang with Stefan and Damon Salvatore, though he is not the “bad boy” those Vampire Diaries guys are.

As for the female lead, Julie (played by Teresa Palmer),  she looks uncannily like Twilight‘s Kristen Stewart in certain shots, though blonde. Thankfully, she is far more emotive and human that Stewart’s Bella, and she is not a trip-over-everything klutz. No, this girl can run. And shoot zombies. She is the life of the film (pun intended) and, for once, is not an insipid, helpless damsel waiting for a male true love to come rescue her. Instead, she’s a strong, smart, confident go-getter willing to face off with zombies and her macho militarized father (John Malkovich).

Though I liked the book’s fresh, sarcastic tone and enjoyed how the movie used an inner-monologue style that drew on the meta-critical, self-aware aspects of the book, the other parts of the film left me cold. Or at least not brimming with life. I liked that it’s a zombie film that makes fun of the  zombie trope to good effect, and I liked the moments of wry humor–the Fight Club-esque critiques of America as a violent-ridden consumer wasteland of airports and walled cities–but overall I found the film couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. It’s a zombie romance one minute and a zombie comedy the next, with some action/fight scenes thrown in for good measure. I hungered for more humor, more subtle critique of our zombified existence in pre-apocalyptic America. Instead, the film tried to incorporate too much action and too many movie touchstones: the ride in the convertible, the first kiss in water, the jealous father, the scary villainous monsters, the slow-motion drowning shot. You get the picture.

What bothered me most, however, was the romance narrative. Yes, another love story where the creepy guy gets the girl. Sure, R is cute, but for heck sake, he killed Julie’s boyfriend. Ate his brains! (Well, part of them–he sensibly saves some of them to snack on later.) In the book and film, eating a human’s brain allows zombies to live that person’s memories in their now dead brain, so R draws out the brain eating experience, wanting to “taste” the feelings of being alive. These memories can, in fact, account for why he falls in love with Julie: He has ingested the feelings of her boyfriend Perry and, like him, he now loves her as well.

As if killing off someone’s boyfriend isn’t a bad enough way to start a romance, R then kidnaps Julie from the world of the living, covers her in zombie grime to keep her safe and holes her up in his makeshift home–an abandoned airplane. She desperately wants to leave. She tries to escape. She has to beg him for food. Ah, but eventually those zombie eyes win her over and she sees the light–he is not a boyfriend-eating kidnapper after all, just a misunderstood zombie dude. And a cute one. And so she falls for him. Of course.

Ultimately, their zombie-human relationship attempts to serve as a metaphor for tolerance–as in, “Zombies are people too, stop judging them!” While the impetus behind such messages of acceptance is good, it saddens me that most mainstream arguments for tolerance and diversity are couched in supernatural, out-of-this-world terms–as when vampires are the new outcasts vying for social acceptance (Twilight, True Blood, Vampire Diaries) or, as here, where zombies are the oppressed. Further, the “solution” to intolerance in films like this is not social justice writ larg, but romance, sexual desire and hot (or cold!) vampire/human, zombie/human kisses. This movie and its ilk suggest that if only we can love one another, even when some of us want to eat each others’ brains, it will all be OK. I find that message a tad brainless.

Sure R is likeable. As zombies go. Sure he is attractive. As dead people go. And he seems like a sweet, kind-hearted zombie. He would be a good friend! But, he also must eat humans to survive. Sure, Julie’s love cures him and he becomes human again. Like that is a new romance trope: Beauty saves the Beast. Cue the music. (Which this movie did a lot. The score was good, but a bit heavy-handed. I don’t like to feel  emotionally manipulated by the soundtrack–the music should echo the emotion of the narrative, not try and create it.)

At least for once the woman has the brains in the movie. And is the better driver. She is fierce and smart and strong and a badass runner. Further,  her best friend Nora (Analeigh Tipton) is a funny, wise and loyal sidekick. If only there were more of these type of lively ladies and less dead male romantic heroes. Sigh.

 

Comments

  1. Susanna Astarte says:

    The kidnapping bit doesn’t seem too romantic to me either. (An aside: I like glitter and sparkly things! )
    Anyhow- the whole woman falls for murderous, kidnapper zombie seems far fetched.

  2. Natalie Wilson says:

    Well, to clarify, the movie does not frame R as a “bad guy” and his “kidnapping” is depicted as saving Julie – but this in itself is problematic — she does not want to be “saved” by him and tries to escape. The fact that the narrative has a “happy ending” where the beauty falls in love with the beast (even though R is pretty nice beast/zombie) thus gives us a story we hear all the time in literature and popular culture : under that beastly guy lies a sweetheart, he just needs a chance…

  3. Kelli Gardner says:

    I prefer the new Spiderman because Emma Stone’s character is smart-and necessary to carry out the happy ending. Part of me thinks all grade school children should be shown Kick Ass (swear words and violence be damned)! Zombie-love or not, I hope this trend of strong young female leads continues! Pop culture is often insipid, but if we can at least get more strong, smart, confident young women out in the mainstream, hurray!

  4. I am tired of the story line in which women characters are the ones needing to learn tolerance where looks are concerned. In real life it is mostly females who are judged for our looks.
    Where is the film about a goulish girl who just wants to be loved and accepted by the hot guy who eventually falls for her?

  5. Samantha says:

    First off, let me just say I really enjoyed this movie. Would I ever buy it? Probably not. Would I watch it again? Certainly.

    Having said that, I don’t think it’s *too* unrealistic for her to fall in love with R. We’re in a zombie world, so realism is kind of out the window anyway, but a lot of people develop feelings for someone who saves them, especially if it’s certain death from which they are being saved (and what a gory, painful death being eaten by zombies would be!). Also, given that she’s cooped up with him for a long time, I think it’s possible she could start to like him. Maybe love *is* too far-fetched, given the short time span of the movie in general, but liking him certainly isn’t.

    Also, I think him eating her boyfriend isn’t as large an obstacle to their relationship as it may seem, because she didn’t seem to be on great terms with him, anyway. He seemed to be completely trying to pull away from her before R started snacking on his brains, which could be why Julie wasn’t completely devastated when he died.

    I do like seeing some stronger female leads, though. And I love strong female sidekicks, like Julie’s friend.

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