Friday, October 11, 2013

A Biblical Reading of "Warm Bodies" (2013)

This film is likely dismissed by a lot of people due to the way it engenders false expectations. Horror fans see a zombie film but are disappointed when it is not “scary.” Romance fans see a film with a young couple at its center (named R and Julie, no less) but discover it is hard to have a really strong love story when one character is dead. Both camps are really missing the point. This is a morality tale about that human condition—the one where humanity has lost its humanity. It is not so much a horror film or a romance film (or a horror-romance film) as it is a parable using the zombie device in an effective, novel way.

Begin with the typical situation. The world has experienced an apocalypse. Most of the world’s population have become the walking dead. Surviving humanity has walled itself into a city and survives thanks to a highly structured, carefully controlled, vigilant new way of life. Most zombies roam aimlessly around, occasionally looking for something alive to eat. Over time, they decompose to the point that they are basically walking skeletons.

Where things differ from a more conventional zombie tale, we get to see this whole story from a zombie’s perspective. The voice over narration affords us the opportunity to learn that zombies are not completely the corpses that humanity thinks they have become. They have a vague consciousness. They are conflicted about the monstrous creatures they have become. They grasp at a sense of the life they had before.

When our main zombie, R, meets Julie, his drive to recover his old life is strengthened. Interaction with a living person awakens something within him. When other zombies witness human interaction, they too begin to change. The real message of Romeo and Juliet begins to emerge when R and Julie try to bring humanity and zombies together, as what they have discovered is a cure for the zombie problem.

There is a lot of good in “Warm Hearts.” The basic message—that humanity needs to recover its true essence through love and forgiveness—rings true. It can even be read through a Biblical lens, namely the first few chapters of Romans.

In Romans we see humanity divided into two basic groups: sinners with no moral code—no law—and sinners who see the sin problem, but think that their religion has precluded them from the sin problem. Both have lost the true essence of humanity. Both need a solution, a cure. In “Warm Bodies” the zombies are the sinners without awareness and the people are just as inhuman, but they have societal structures making them think that they are fine. Sure, they know that they are without much hope. The world is spiraling down the drain, but they aren’t walking around dead. Yet.

That is the message of the start of Romans. All have sinned. Everyone has lost their humanity. Everyone needs a cure. And the point of this film (as with most zombie films, the good ones anyway) is that this is OUR problem. R reflects on the days before the zombie plague hit, and the audience sees very little difference. We go through life much like zombies. Aimless, slaves to routine, caught in lives that rarely give thought to purpose or meaning, and never finding answers when we do consider them.

The two types of zombie in this film—the “Corpses” and the “Bonies”—are also a great picture of a Biblical teaching about sin. R introduces us to the really bad zombies:

“They call these guys Bonies. They don't bother us much, but they'll eat anything with a heartbeat. I mean, I will too, but at least I'm conflicted about it.”

R and the other “Corpses” are monsters, but they know that they are. The thing that makes them healable is their awareness of their problem. In Biblical terms, they are “poor in spirit” and they know it. That, combined with forgiveness and love from humanity, is what will save them.

Finally, if you really want to read into this film, take a look at the climactic scene. R and Julie are running from the humans who want to kill them. They are also running from the Bonies who want to eat them, as R now has a heartbeat. For no good reason at all, they run up and up into the upper levels of a stadium, and make their way to a door that leads to nowhere, high above a fountain far below. Rather than let themselves be attacked and turned, they embrace and fall the vast distance into the fountain. The way the scene is filmed it is clearly a baptism. And as they rise up out of the water, R is turned completely human. He is “risen” to new life.

It’s a stretch, but it does come across that way.

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