Thursday, August 29, 2013

More War Entertainment - Just in Time

"World War Z,” film directed by Marc Foster, 2013

Brad Pitt has grown some stubble and decided to go beyond pretty boy and into middle-aged – and become a white, tough, smart, good-looking saviour of humanity.  So far, so normal for Hollywood – one guy against the world.  A middle-class family has their perfect homebody day disrupted by the forces ‘outside.’  Another trope.  Children are at risk.  Mom Karin and the two daughters are terrified, but saved by Daddy’s quick thinking.  Trope 3.  And Daddy is an ex-UN / investigator / tough-guy, and so they are rescued off a roof in Newark by a UN helicopter.  This saves them from a ‘rabies’ outbreak that is really a ravenous zombie hoard moving at lightening speed through the cities of the world, biting everyone in their path.  One good reason not to stay in a city when the ‘shit’ starts, yes?  The rural homeland beckons.  Trope 4.   So zombies – those floating signifiers of doom – return.  (See Marxist analysis of zombies, in “Catastrophism,” book review below.)

Instead, the family stays on an aircraft carrier efficiently run by the US army.  Saved by the military.  Trope 5.

Another movie of the apocalypse.  Pitt (Gerry Lane) has to find the ‘human zero’ who first started a zombie rabies pandemic – sort of like looking for the first AIDS carrier.  So Pitt leaves behind doe-eyed Karin and his one sickly little girl and one healthy one, and flies off to South Korea, where reports indicate ‘patient zero’ was first encountered.  That turns out badly.  Our audience laughed when the intellectual doctor searching for the first virus, a young Harvard Med whiz, falls on his handgun and shoots himself accidentally.  So Pitt has to take over.  He hears from a rogue CIA agent that Israel knew enough to ‘finish’ their Wall just in time to keep the zombies out, so perhaps they knew something first.  Another close escape, as the doe-eyed Karin, who is only concerned about family, MUST call him while he’s trying to slip by some quiet zombies, and wakes them the fuck up.  So he flies to Jerusalem with zombies falling out of the back of the plane.  Who fucked up?  The wife fucked up.  And the intellectual fucked up. 

Here Pitt visits the giant wall – evidently the same Wall our dear Israelis are building now to keep the Palestinians out – and which is now keeping the zombies out.  Zombies=Palestinians?  That also ends badly, as some ‘dumb,’ I think, Palestinians start singing after they are rescued, and that maddens the zombies to the point where they climb over the wall on top of each other, roach style.  Another close escape for Pitt, #3.  Who fucked up?  Stupid singing Palestinians.  Who are the zombies?  Mostly Palestinians, it seems. 

In the process, Pitt saves the life of a tough, young Israeli female solider, Segen, and they both escape on a plane bound for Belarus, which they turn to head to Cardiff, Wales.  For the first time in this movie, a woman is not helpless and weak, as this girl can wield a weapon.  Of course, she is also saved by Pitt.  She has her hand chopped off by Pitt, after being bitten in the hand by a zombie, and she doesn’t bleed to death or turn into a zombie.  Little bit of tight tape-wrapping, and she’s good to go.  Right.  They fly to Wales because it has a World Health Organization lab and Pitt has figured out a cure of sorts.  

On the plane, a zombie bursts out of the bathroom after being sussed by a little dog.  (Yeah, how’d that zombie get in there?)  Segen empties her clip, then Pitt throws a grenade into the new-made zombies, after he and Segen put on their seat-belts.  The grenade blows a hole in the airplane, and sucks the zombies – which is now every passenger - clear out.  Escape 4. 

Plane crash.  The army thinks Pitt is dead, and so sends his family to some rural outpost in Nova Scotia, and off the very-safe aircraft carrier. 

Of course, Pitt and Segen survive the crash, he with a long piece of metal sticking through his lower stomach.  Another trope.  They stagger to the lab and he’s patched up.  Remember, he’s a tough guy!  Pitt figures out they have to go into the other building where the deadly diseases are kept, which is full of slow-witted zombified ex-scientists wandering around.  In a needlessly odd and racist scene, a ‘zombie’ black woman who looks like she is Haitian is in a glass cage in the lab, growling.  She has teeth like a wolf.  She is the ‘sample’ zombie.  You notice it is not a rich corporate lawyer in the glass cage.

What did Pitt figure out?  He noticed that the zombies did not attack sick people.  If they inoculate people with some disease, he’s hoping it will ‘camouflage’ them from attack.  So Pitt, one scientist and Segen head over to where the infectious and deadly diseases are kept.  She shoots a bunch more zombies.  He gets in the store room, shoots up one culture at random into his arm, just happening to pick one that won’t kill him right off, waits, and eventually walks right by the clucking zombies.  Escape 5. 

The war against the zombies will go on, but our hero returns to his family in Nova Scotia. Exciting stuff, lots of close escapes, and while the story is stupid in the retelling, it is of course more convincing on screen.  Disbelief is suspended.  What else is suspended, besides your mind? 

Walter Benjamin was a German Marxist, sometimes associated with the ‘Frankfort School.”  As Andrew Robinson recently said in an excellent article in Ceasefire Magazine:  “In Benjamin’s account, fascism is closely connected to the spectacular and epic in film, literature, music and art. There is little question Benjamin would have related modern blockbuster movies to the fascist approach to art, particularly when they use special effects to aestheticise warfare.” 

This film reflects Benjamin's analysis.  The movie glamorizes unrestrained bloodshed, making it ‘cool and exciting.’  And nothing like reality.  As the U.S. prepares to bomb another Middle-Eastern country in some kind of video-arcade bombing campaign, we should keep that in mind.  Benjamin's thesis was that fascism manipulates emotions because it cannot deliver any material benefits, and that is its strength - the delivery of certain emotional states.  Patriotism.  Tribal unity.  Anger.  Dominance.  Hatred.  Fear. 

So what ideas have been suspended in our minds? And emotions inculcated?

  1. The apocalypse is coming.  Yet this one is not believable.  After all, zombies are bullshit.  So what real ‘apocalypse’ are we talking about? 
  2. One guy can save the world. 
  3. The Army Will Save Us.  Especially if you are ‘Connected.’ 
  4. Mothers are sad, helpless cases.
  5. Intellectuals are ineffectual.
  6. Palestinians are zombies.
  7. Haitians are zombies.
  8. The Wall in Israel is good.
  9. Who are the zombies?  Are they a representative of a pandemic of some disease, like bird flu, mad cow or swine flu, transmitted by airplane flight?  Are the zombies the poor rising against capitalist ‘society?’  Are they symbolic of an approaching ecological catastrophe?  Are they the revolution?
  10. In this film, the majority of people in the world are ‘zombies.’  It is necessary to find small safe zones to escape them.  In this case they are no longer ‘mad shoppers’ or ‘stupid people’ or even the drunks of the zombie pub crawl.  It has gone far beyond that.  They are the majority of humans.  They are free-floating signifiers of planetary doom, reflecting a basic social anxiety of a … minority.  You fill in the blank about ‘what’ minority they are talking about.  My guess is Western upper-class whites, at least in this film. 
Nearly all the ideological and emotional subtexts of this film are conservative, even though Pitt is a Hollywood ‘liberal.’  Did he need another pay check?    (Stay tuned for the next apocalypse/dystopia movie, ‘Elysium.’)

And I saw it at the Riverview Theater!
Red Frog
August 29, 2013

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