Love in a Time of Decay: A Review of “Warm Bodies”

R and Julie in  Warm Bodies  (2013)

R and Julie in Warm Bodies (2013)

I have a thing for goofy, zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, the Evil Dead movies, and the Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. Most add a strong dash of humor to the horror, splatter, and dismemberment. However, few could actually be considered sweet. That for me, is one of the great appeals of Warm Bodies, the 2013 film starring Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer. It a giant smorgasbord of delights, a teenage zombie/thriller/Shakespearean/romantic comedy. What more could you ask for? 

Hoult plays R, a zombie suffering from an existential crisis, conscious but trapped inside a  shuffling, incoherent body that never sleeps, never rests, never stops. R has no memory of his previous life, and spends days, rootless and lost, wandering an airport collecting ephemera of a pre-Zombie world. On a hunting trip in the nearby City, R finds Julie, a human survivor, who rekindles a tiny spark of R’s humanity. What follows is an unorthodox and very entertaining courtship with the occasional bloodthirsty throat grab. 

Aside from the plot, which is clever and fun, are the tiny tweaks to the world they build. The movie is short of much exposition, as the setting really isn’t that different from all the other apocalyptic zombie flicks out there: desolate landscape, mysterious contagion, fight for survival. We’ve seen all that. But, the fun comes when you need to consider, what does a zombie do when they aren’t searching for brains? What if they had feelings and felt lonely or sad? What if they were a little bit like me... and you?

Zombies (and zombieism) function as a great allegorical stand-in for the cultural fears of the day. In the 1930’s, zombies represented the lure and distrust of communism. In the 1950’s it was nuclear war; in the 60’s the creeping racial integration that scared white America; in the 70’s consumerism, 80’s sexual promiscuity and STD’s; and the 90’s literal viral outbreaks. For Warm Bodies, the allegorical fear is our modern fixation on electronic devices and the ways they rob us of connections to each other. In the film (and real life), humanity survives due to the shared community and the necessary relationships we all need to have to remember who we are. It’s not accidental that the few moments that R remembers of the world prior to the zombie outbreak shows normal humans all disassociated from each other, lost in their gadgets, phones, and portable MP3 players.  Those future zombies were already one step away from being true people. 

 But, hope is not lost. Even the worst of us can reclaim those connections. Because, as Warm Bodies insinuates, the main difference between humans and zombies are the bonds that connect us.