The rash of cannibalistic murders and attacks in the past week has led to much talk of a coming zombie apocalypse (it is 2012 after all). Zombies, the walking dead, that make such great antagonists in silly horror movies, are fascinating to us living humans. There is no doubt of what action to take when confronted with a zombie—kill them. We do not feel pity, remorse, shame, nor does it even feel like murder. They are the perfect image of less than human. They have no brainpower left, and are merely wobbly corpses, desirous of brain flesh. They are usually normal people who have been co-opted or infected by some terrible plague unleashed by an unscrupulous, greedy corporation/government. So, why do we feel no pity for those, who could so easily have been us, contaminated by the virus?
There is something deep in human biology, a hint of pure competitiveness and Darwinian logic that tells us to get rid of the weakest links. The modern, slightly compassionate, global world is gradually erasing this primordial urge, but it remains, albeit repressed; yet it is there nonetheless. We can find this feeling manifested through zombie slaughter. They are lethal, weak, incapable of thought or emotion, and worst of all, ugly. They have lost. They have been bitten or scratched and are therefore not allowed in our new healthy, zombie-free, future.
Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, Shaun/Dawn of the Dead et al. have the common theme of merciless carnage on those poor bloody demons. We watch and feel great when they get killed. We don’t even care when they kill the zombie dogs. The reason zombie movies are such a staple of the horror genre is it requires no build-up, or back-story or reason for why we should root for the hero and hate on the scraggly, draggly mop heads. We can be instantly immersed, in media res, into a story and know exactly who are the bad guys. The same usually goes for Nazi movies; but, remember that scene in The Pianist, when the Nazi listened to Adrian “the schnozz” Brody play his first piano in years and then walk away without killing him? Yeah, the normal line of natural dislike and aversion to Nazis is purposely blurry there, same with Oscar Schindler’s jovial backslapping and dinner parties with the SS. Those Nazi soldiers had free will and a working brain, but also orders to follow, a terrible dilemma for all involved. Sometimes, when watching a WW2 movie, we can feel the same feelings toward Nazis that we feel toward zombies—that is, kill them, for they are trying to kill you. But, as illustrated by a few Hollywood movies, it is not always that simple. Nazis, ruthless, cruel and seemingly inflexible though they seem, are still human; and can therefore be given to the all too human condition of a softened heart. Zombies, have lost their innate humanness, and no longer possess anything that obliges the non-zombies to spare them. Even in The Simpsons’ world, when the town was hit by a nuclear bomb, and everyone but the Simpsons clan (due to the many layers of lead paint in their house, creating a perfect bomb shelter) became zombies, the moment when they were confronted by the Moe, Apu and Flanders’ zombies, Marge blew their heads off. The nicest cartoon mom knew: you can’t trust a zombie.
The world needs dichotomy. We have two sides to every story and A Tale of Two Cities. We have good and bad, night and day, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. In all we see, there is an opposite. The human condition is destined to endure both happy and sad times. We are aware of the fact that death and life are in the same cycle as love and hate. Death exists to give meaning and progression to life. The beautiful fallen tree rots to create new soil and homes to Earth’s lowliest creatures. The staggering depth, breadth and infinite soul of the oceans are merely one drop on one planet in one galaxy. Those zombies you see eating faces and hearts, they are the evil, lost side of our world. They are the opposite side of the double-edged sword on which all human life on Earth precariously teeters. If you took away the oil supply, you might find yourself as Mel Gibson in Mad Max’s dystopian desert world. If you took away the drinking water, you might find yourself sailing with Kevin Costner in Waterworld’s endless search for stability. We feel like a functional, secure society because we have cars that run, water to drink, police that supervise and no zombies to fear. How long would that peace last if there were no consequences? Do people act according to the golden rule of communal living because they want to, or are they just afraid of getting caught? When asked the question of: What would you do if the world were going to end in 24 hours? Many people think of the world blowing up and all prior actions erased in a climactic mushroom cloud. But, imagine if it merely meant, the world, as you knew it, would end, and you were left with the last 24 hours in your memory, as you wandered alone in the dreadful zombie-infected future. Would you wish for those hours back to act less like a brain-dead zombie, or does breaking rules make you more human?