On movie violence and bio-zombies

November 13, 2007

D & my weekend moviegoing plans were thwarted this weekend when, despite the blitz of television ads and radio & newspaper reviews, we figured out that No Country For Old Men doesn’t open in Florida until November 21. And that’s really just too bad, because D had to work really hard to get me to agree to see this movie even in principle. Fresh off of my reading of A Good War is Hard to Find by David Griffiths (much more thoughtfully discussed on Someday Sartori), I felt confident in my refusal to subject myself to another 2+ hours of guns, blood, and death onscreen. Also, fiction workshop this past summer has made me much more confident about placing myself in the “Cormac McCarthy starts a lot of sentences with ‘and'” camp of literary criticism–so I don’t feel the need to see this movie out of some kind of duty to American literature. D was determined, however, and pulled up the NPR review by Kenneth Turan that made him definitively decide to lobby me to go (he already wanted to go–he actually read the whole book and belongs to the “I think Corman McCarthy is a manly man” school of literary criticism). This review pretty much did the trick for me, placing the story in the frame of an allegory of just how wrong people who think they completely understand the situation can be. Iraq war parallels, anyone? I’m a sucker for those. But, I might must lose my momentum now that I’ve read Stephanie Zacharek’s review on Salon, because I’m also a sucker for critical judgments like this: “This is really a movie about the hearts and lives of Men, capital M, a metaphor for the way the old signposts of masculinity — those phallic wooden things you could always find here and there to tie your horse to for a spell — have all but disappeared in today’s world.” Just what I thought! I’m saving my nine bucks for a mani-pedi, okay? Although there is a certain stylistic mojo to offing people with “a pressurized thingie used to stun and instantly kill cattle”–oh no! It’s just like Griffiths said! I’m getting sucked into the cool of kill, telling myself it’s just an image, just a metaphor… or maybe just a self-important movie with Tommy Lee Jones and a lot of brain spatter… Anyway, I’ll let you know how the battle for the moviegoing soul of our household turns on on November 21, when this question will come up again.

So, in lieu of thought-provoking/pseudo-authentic desert drug violence, we decided to rent 28 Weeks Later. **POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!*** Short version: I liked it.

I actually hadn’t seen the first movie in this franchise, 28 Days Later, until I’d read a few reviews for 28 Weeks, so I’m kind of a latecomer. I remember seeing posters for 28 Days in the Underground when I was abroad, and I was scared enough already, what with the Moscow opera hostage sitch and the vaguely threatening experience of being an American in Euroland around that time, so I gave it a miss. It looked too real. But the reviews for 28 Weeks were so good, I figured I was ready. I kind of was–I still kept my eyes covered for most of it, but I really liked 28 Days Later–the long opening sequence where Cillian Murphy is wandering around an empty London/21st century urban world that is completely abandoned for no apparent (yet) reason is haunting. Like Children of Men, it also created a beautiful if damning contrast between the continuity of the natural world (unaffected by Rage) and the self-destruction of human society. The ending is equally poetic–a huge “hello” made of bed sheets on a grassy swath of English farmland, three ecstatically alive people making contact with a helicopter.

So, now I’m finally up to 28 Weeks Later. The first disappointment of this movie actually turned out to be one of its strong/interesting suits: no Cillian Murphy, even though he is apparently alive when NATO shows up at the end of the first movie (unless you watch AH asks the very good question, “why would they make a sequel to this movie without Cillian Murphy in it?” I don’t really have an answer for that, but I can report that, it was for a good reason. Instead of this movie being a direct sequel, it’s kind of like another piece of the picture, which I found to be a really compelling way to go about it. Most of the actors are either only vaguely familiar faces or outright unknowns (and hardly any Americans, even though Americans make up about half of the characters), which puts the emphasis back on the story. It starts out back in the thick of the virus, which is disturbing for a couple of reasons. 1) You thought you were done with all that and 2) it shows something that the first movie never does–the breakdown of a family in the face of Infected onslaught. It was absolutely harrowing–they don’t spare you a second of watching the family get picked off, one by one, including a couple of elderly people who really didn’t have a chance. Then, we do fast forward a bit to the US Army taking responsibility for re-populating Britain. You can guess how well that goes–none of the Americans have ever seen the virus at work, so after a while it is hard for them to take it seriously, and they get seriously lax about security. They don’t bother to keep asking the questions they should, and they don’t bother to look for flaws in their emergency plans. Of course, all of these are horribly exposed as the movie goes. Beneath these macro-level errors, though, the lens is continually on individual decision-making. At a WLNM’s bbq this weekend, I was talking with someone who pointed out that one of the reasons the first movie is so scary is that basically, every one in it does the smart thing most of the time. And they are still all totally f***ed for the most part. It’s a little more complicated in this movie. There is no clear smart thing to do, and the characters are left with the choice of, just how will you go down in flames (literally, in the case of the American soldier who makes the split-second decision to protect the children with the potential immunity by pushing the car they are in out of the path of fire-wanding soldiers dousing everything that moves–that’s the plan you see, kill everyone, Infected or not, if control is lost). Will you go down with the illusion of self-preservation or will you go down in knowing sacrifice to something that may still fail? Not pretty. As one of the directors (Spanish dudes, totally different from the directors of the first film) points out, mercy is a very dangerous choice in this movie, but the alternative isn’t necessarily less dangerous. In fact, it’s often the case that a little mercy is a dangerous thing. When the virus does make it’s come back, there’s a period where the soldiers are instructed to fire only at confirmed Infected. As a viewer you’re going, no no, you have to kill them ALL if you wait to figure out who’s really sick it’s TOO LATE. Then, when that order becomes, free targets, shoot everyone, you are just as horrified, and so are the soldiers. The movie keeps you in this moment for what feels like forever– totally healthy people, gunned down, simply b/c they are on ground level. The soldiers keep asking for command confirms–understandable, but how do you balance that against the fact that this a virus that spreads in seconds? In what becomes a laugh line, one of the helicopter pilots says “it’s fubar!” Yup.

As for the actual ending of the film–I’ll tell you if you want, but basically, I’m really hoping for a part 3 just so I can figure out what really is happening in the final frames.

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