Just got back from 28 Days Later. I’ve always had a soft spot for the director, Danny Boyle, since I first saw Shallow Grave, back in 1996 or so. I didn’t like his followup movie, Trainspotting, the first time I saw it, but it grew on me over the years. In fact, last summer I bought a poster of the opening monologue of Trainspotting (to remind me, I suppose, of all that I’ve given up so I can have my life as an alien in the suburbs).
I admit that I detested A Life Less Ordinary (but loved the soundtrack), and never watched his next movie, The Beach. But hey: It’s summertime, I’ve been stressed to bejesus over this issue of the magazine (all done tomorrow), and it’s a zombie flick.
Considering the two+ hours of my life that was wasted a few weeks ago by The Matrix Reloaded (freeway scene was fantastic, the “philosophy” was pretty much Lowest College Denominator, and the other fight scenes were over-choreographed), I figured 28 Days Later would be a decent way to spend an evening. Plus, I was hoping that at least one member of the audience would think this was the sequel to Twenty-Eight Days. Alas.
I enjoyed the movie, which is about a plague that has consumed England. The victims succumb to rage, driven to kill (and spread the virus, which is transmitted by blood). We view this new world from the eyes of a man who has been in a coma since the day it began, a bicycle messenger who was hit by a car one morning. He wakes in the hospital to find that London is empty. (For those of you raised on video games, this is done much better than the ending of the Resident Evil movie.) Eventually, he comes across an awful lot of corpses, and then some zombies (they’re not really dead, so it’s unfair to call them zombies, I know).
He hooks up with some other survivors, and learns how quickly you have to decide to kill someone if he or she becomes infected. It’s at this point that the movie then reminded me of a debate I once had back in Annapolis. At the time (1993-1995), I lived in this fantastic house, next door to the William Paca Gardens. Paca, you may or may not know, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence.
At one point, our house was infested with mice. It took us (two guys and I lived on the first two floors, and a girl lived alone up on the third floor) several days to figure out the clues, but at that point, the problem grew severe. Not content to nibble on bits of cheese and run into perfect half-circle doorways chewed into the baseboard, they grew audacious. I was woken up one night by the sound of one trying to eat through the plastic lid of my Planters peanut container. I shuddered to imagine how huge these monsters could grow if they reached such a source of protein, so I winged my copy of the Bollingen Complete Plato across the room at the target. I missed, and the mouse darted away. But we knew we were in for a fight.
Here’s where the debate came in. The two guys and I opted to poison the mice, but the girl on the third floor insisted on “humane traps.” She felt it was cruel to poison the mice. I, despite my affection for Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, made the following statement:
“We can’t be humane to them because THEY’re NOT HUMAN. See: they’re engineered to survive. We’re engineered to live. There’s a world of difference. We live. They survive. That’s why we don’t breed dozens of children every year or two. I want them to get pulmonary edema and die in front of their families. Better that than my getting hantavirus.”
In the end, we went our separate ways. Lovan, Fred and I poisoned the mice, and Katie used “humane traps.”
This turned out to be monstrously INhumane, because Katie went away for a long weekend, traps deployed. When she got home, there were approximately 1.5 mice left in the trap. I was called upon to clean it out for her, and take care of getting some poison traps in place in her apartment. I felt like Peter Weller in Naked Lunch. And not for the first time.
Let me get back to the movie. See, the characters are in a world where they can only survive, not live. The tension (besides the threat of rage-infected zombies trying to kill them) is the way they come to recognize the greater importance of this struggle. Not the idea of dying with dignity, but of living for something more than the next day. As one character learns to embrace this, another becomes so stripped of himself that he might as well be one of the Infected. It’s an interesting transformation, albeit against a backdrop remarkably similar to the finale of Apocalypse Now.
I’m not sure about the ultimate message of the movie, which I’m still parsing in my head (and can’t really discuss without giving away too much of the plot), but it was enough to make me think, which is a hell of a lot more than the new Matrix movie did.
So, if you’re into horror flicks that you can ponder after, or at least don’t mind the sight of bloodthirsty zombies in an art film, go catch 28 Days Later. [Note: the film appears to be shot on digital video, rather than film, and this REALLY becomes noticeable in the daylight outdoors scenes. I mean, to the point of distraction. I have a feeling it’ll look better on TV, where the details aren’t magnified as much as they are on the big screen. Or maybe I’m just too darn picky.]
All of this said, I’m glad I went to a 6:15 showing of this, and not a late night one. Because the zombie thing has always creeped me the heck out, to be honest. It’s one of those recurring nightmares, a world where everyone is simply massing to get you. You know: as opposed to my daytime paranoia, where I also figure everyone is out to get me, but at least they’re not trying to devour my brain. Well, not physically, at least.
And in fact, this is one of the problems I have with crowds. Not crowds in general, but crowds that are all out for a specific purpose, like at a rock “concert” or something. One of the videos that most profoundly weirded me out was for Drive, by REM. It’s a black-and-white performance video, consisting mainly of Michael Stipe, in slow-motion, crowd surfing. There’s something so fascistic about the spectacle of it, that I was literally revulsed the first time I saw it.[Also, the song itself is a pretty dull knock-off of Rock On, by David Essex, the latter tune my friend and author Vince Czyz so beautifully integrated into his short story, Zee Gee and the Blue Jean Baby Queen.]
Sweet dreams, baby . . .