When the idea of zombie is moved from the spiritual realm to that of a physical pathogen, the logic begins to fail. Zombies have traditionally been described as animated corpses under the power of the occult. Though imaginary, the logic is clear that the corpse is “alive” not by any biological process but rather by that of a demonic spirit. In Marc Foster’s World War Z, the zombies are walking pathogens yet they have no biological life. What animates them? If there is no biological life within, are they a walking bacteria or virus? Both require a host that is alive. This logical impossibility is also coupled with the zombies having super-human strength and speed, something that is given no reasonable explanation, though we see them brutally attack humans who then become super-zombies.
Using the action-skill demonstrated in Quantum of Solace, Forster bases his film on the novel by Max Brooks and the writing team of Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard and Damon Lindelof.
The story revolves around Gerry Land (Brad Pitt), a United Nations investigator who has unparalleled expertise in analyzing situations and finding solutions. Having retired to spend time with his young family, Land is forced back into service when his city is overrun by zombies. Recognizing his exceptional skill to deal with this global war against humanity, Land’s former supervisor Thierry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) sends a rescue helicopter to take his family to a naval vessel hundreds of miles off the coast. Explaining that his family will be forced to leave the vessel as “non-essential personnel” if he doesn’t come back to work, Land agrees to do so.
The journey to find the cause of the zombie epidemic takes Land all over the world. The situation is grave. Weaving together various opinions and coincidences he finds himself eventually behind the walls of Jerusalem that are being used to protect its citizens from the zombies and he is told that the wall was built not because of terrorists but because there is intelligence information about zombies. Explaining the “10th man rule” that if nine people think it improbable that there will be a holocaust or attack on Olympic athletes or that zombies are real, then the 10th person is to disagree and take action as though it is a real threat.
Though Land encounters various people throughout his journey, they play minor roles in both the action and the investigation. More nimble than the military leaders and smarter than the scientists, Land becomes a Christ-figure as he takes steps that put himself in danger in order to save humanity.
A brutal film that requires suspension of logic, World War Z is an action film with an unexpected solution to an impossible situation. For action-film fans, it may be enjoyable but it is an unsatisfying premise.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. What do you think causes our fascination with zombies and vampires? What is the fear within us that humans can be the “walking dead” or “blood-sucking” humans? What do these imaginary symbols represent?
2. The solution that requires Land to take on disease to stop disease is similar to the theological belief that Jesus took on sin in order to stop sin. Does this film help you understand the Christian view of atonement? How is it similar and how is it different?
3. The decision of the writers to remove virtually all other actors from the story-line focuses the action directly on Brad Pitt. Do you believe this weakens or strengthens the film? Why?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara. For more reviews: www.cinemainfocus.com.